Chapter 17: Not Quite the Last Piece of the Puzzle
Copyright© 2012 by Coaster2
"Mr. Hansen, it's Detective Etchevarry. I wanted to let you know we've made an arrest in the murder of your wife."
"You have!" I exclaimed in surprise. "Who? How did you solve it?"
I could hear a slight chuckle on the other end of the line.
"We arrested Toby Gottman and have charged him with second degree murder. He's confessed and we now know the whole story. I'm relieved that we got to the truth finally."
"What can you tell me? Why did he do it? Did he say why she was in that motel room?"
"I think we have all the pertinent details. I'll drop by later today if you're going to be home and I'll give you the information we have."
"Yes ... I'll be here. The children will be in school if you're here before three. I don't think I want them to hear this."
"I understand. I'll try to get there about two o'clock. If I'm going to be delayed, I'll call you."
"Thanks. Thanks very much. This is a big relief, let me tell you. I really appreciate all the effort you've put into this, Detective."
"It's Carl, Mr. Hansen. I think we've been through enough that we can use first names."
"Of course. Please, call me Doug. I'll look forward to seeing you this afternoon."
Carl appeared on our doorstep shortly after two-fifteen that afternoon.
"Come in. I'm sure you remember Christie Wilson," I said.
"Yes, of course. Nice to see you again, Ms. Wilson."
"It's Christie, Carl," she smiled, "since we're being informal. Nice to see you too."
Christie had made some coffee and Carl accepted.
"I don't get a chance at coffee this good most of the time," he admitted.
"So ... it's solved then?" I said, anxious to hear the details.
He nodded. "It's solved. We went through it step-by-step with him and there aren't any holes that we can find. We've also now got a match with the DNA found at the scene, so that pretty well confirms his version as well.
"Here's how it all happened," Etchevarry began. "Toby is on the road almost constantly, making service calls on machinery his company has sold. He's single and apparently likes the life. He was staying at the Riverbend on the night of the murder, but had gone to the Hilton to cruise the bar. He spotted your wife, his step-sister, in the restaurant talking to a couple. He said it looked like a business meeting.
"Toby went into the bar and a while later, Diane walked in and sat in a booth. He walked over to her when her drink was served and said hello. She was surprised to see him, but allowed him to join her. They talked and Toby said they kind of made up after all the years that they didn't get along. Your wife told him that it was past history and she'd forgotten it.
"He says he slipped a 'roofie' into her drink when she went to the washroom. He didn't volunteer that information to begin with, but we pressed him to find out why she would voluntarily go to his motel with him and pose for the pictures. I'm getting ahead of myself," the detective admitted.
"If he drugged her, wouldn't that have shown up in the autopsy?" I asked immediately.
"It did. It was something we held back. Sorry that I couldn't tell you, but we needed something to make sure we had the right guy when we found him. The DNA alone might not have been enough, so we held back the drug we found in her bloodstream."
I nodded, wondering why DNA wouldn't be enough.
"Anyway, he had some tablets on him when we pulled him in for questioning and they are being run through the lab to make sure they are a match to what we found in your wife's bloodstream."
"So he convinced her to go back to the motel. How did he get her to pay for the room?"
"He gave her the money. He didn't want to be recognized by the night clerk since he already had a room rented. By the time he got her into the room, the drug had taken full effect and she was vulnerable to his directions. He said she was confused and didn't want to do what he asked to begin with, but he threatened her and she began to follow his orders.
"She stripped as you saw in the photographs that he took with his cell phone. Then I guess she decided she didn't want to do what he wanted and started to resist. He hit her and she fought back. He hit her several times and according to him, he was so frustrated and angry about her not doing what he told her to do that he didn't stop.
"He claims he left her curled up in the corner like she was in that last picture. He also claims that she was still alive when he left the room. There's no way to prove it either way and that's the reason for the second degree charge, along with the fact that it wasn't premeditated. He wanted to have sex with her. He claims she had taunted him for years when they lived together. Whether that's true or not, who can say. Anyway, it all went bad for him.
"He checked out the next morning and went about his calls before he left that afternoon for Evansville. He had no idea he had killed her until we contacted him in the early part of our investigation. After all this time, he was pretty sure he'd gotten away with it. When we contacted him the second time, he started to worry. To tell the truth, he wasn't very difficult to break. He never intended to kill her and just wanted to do what he wanted to do all those years when they lived in the same house. He wanted sex."
"But that never happened. You said there was no sign of her having sex."
"True. He said he got scared when he saw her curled up in the corner and left the room and went back to his own."
"How did he know she wouldn't call the police?"
"He didn't. I don't think it ever occurred to him. He isn't too bright from what we can tell. He told us he slept all right that night despite what he had done. That's a hard one to figure."
I let my breath out and relaxed back in the chair. It was almost over. Almost.
"What was Diane doing at the hotel café?" I asked.
"She was meeting potential clients for her accounting business. Many of them couldn't afford the time during the day, so she would set up meetings in the evening. Sometimes it was at their home, while others it was at a hotel. When our people did a more thorough check on her customers, we found three that had met with her in the evening to discuss her taking them on as clients. Two of them met in their home, the other at a hotel."
"But ... she was only out when I was away?"
He nodded. "A coincidence? Maybe she didn't want to be out when you were home. After all, you were on the road regularly too. Hard to say and we'll probably never know."
It made sense. Diane did value our time together. She always greeted me with enthusiasm when I returned from a tour. She always told me how much she missed me when I was gone. I could hear that in her voice when we talked on the phone. Yeah, I could believe that she didn't want to go out when I was home.
"Are there any other loose ends?" I asked.
"No ... not as far a we are concerned. We have his written confession. We've talked to his father and mother about his behavior when he lived at home. They've had very little contact with him since he moved to Cincinnati. He's always been a loner they said. They say he never had a steady girlfriend, even when he was a teenager."
"So it's over," I said, more to myself than Carl or Christie.
He nodded and I looked at Christie. She had a weak smile of confirmation. It was over.
"I want to thank you again, Carl, for staying with this case all the way. It was never going to be a happy ending, but at least now it has an ending. It's done and over with."
"Yes. That's the only reward for our efforts, Doug. I can put the file in the closed box and go on to the next one. They don't all end as neatly as this one did."
I held out my hand. "Congratulations on a job well done."
He took it and smiled, "Thanks. You did your part and it made a difference. It kept me digging and that's what it took. Good luck to you."
Christie thanked him as well as he made his way out the door toward his car. I wrapped my arm around her and waved to him as he drove away.
"You look relieved," she said as I led her back to the living room.
"I am. I've been hoping that somehow it would come to an end and now it has. I didn't realize what a huge sense of relief I would have when it happened."
"I'm happy for you, Doug. I know it's been on your mind constantly. I'm relieved too that it's over."
I sat back on the sofa, my arm now around Christie's shoulders once more. We sat silently for a couple of minutes before I turned to her.
"There isn't anything to get in the way any more, Christie. My mind is clear and my mind is made up. Will you marry me?"
She looked shocked. Perhaps because my proposal came at such an unexpected moment, or perhaps because she wasn't expecting it at all.
"Wha ... Why? Why now?" she stuttered.
"I love you, Christie. And why now? Because the ghosts are gone. There's nothing hanging around to make me feel like I'm hanging onto Diane's memory. I loved her just as I love you. But she's gone and it's finally over. I can come to you with a clear mind and the certainty that it's something I truly want."
I watched a range of emotions pass over her face as she struggled to say something. Was she trying to make up her mind? Or, was she wondering how to say what she wanted to say?
"I don't know. I'm not sure it's the right thing ... for me. I need to think about it. You're a good man, Doug. A very good man. But ... I'm not sure of my feelings for you and after ... after making a mistake ... well ... I'm just not sure."
"But, Christie, I don't understand. I've given you all the time you need. I thought you loved me?"
"I ... I do, but I'm happy with the way things are. Let's just carry on the way we were for now."
"Fine. Take all the time in the world to decide," I said, not really meaning it.
I was only partially surprised at Christie's reticence. She had never said she was in love with me, although her actions left the impression that she felt that way. It wasn't just the sex. It was the day-to-day touching and familiarity that had developed between us. It was the comfort that we felt being around each other. But none of that mattered until she acknowledged her feelings.
To be candid, I had my lingering concerns about Diane's past as well. As much as her murder was now solved, it left unresolved questions in my mind. Why didn't she tell me about her evening meetings with prospective clients? Where did her developed sexuality come from? It was hard to believe it was just from conversations with friends. And Christie said her discussions with Diane were never in any depth on that subject. Were these questions to remain unanswered forever? It seemed like it.
So that begged the question: was the ghost of Diane Hansen really buried, or just out of sight for now? Would it come back to haunt me (or both Christie and me) sometime in the future? As much as I wanted to park all these questions in some hidden corner, they were never very far from my mind.
I pushed my doubts aside for a while, trying to concentrate on my family, my job, and my thoughts about the future. I wondered if Christie would come around and agree to marry me, but even if our relationship stayed as it was, I could accept that. It wasn't as neat and formal as being married, but I was getting all the benefits of marriage to her, so who was I to complain?
Rumors had been circulating for a while that Silver Arrow might be for sale. Grant Depassie was in his mid-sixties and there was no logical successor to take over. He had two sons who lived away from Louisville; one in Atlanta and the other in Missouri. Neither had any interest in the business.
I wasn't really concerned, other than if a less-than-professional corporation bought it and ran it strictly for short-term profit without the tight quality and safety controls that Silver Arrow had made part of their culture. If a new owner didn't feel those were necessary, I would be looking for another opportunity and with my clean driving record and years of service, I was confident I could find an alternative position.