that catch-all, paper-thin parenthetical


GO ANYWHERE AND FIND that there is a ratio of franchised coffee shops to big box retail of about three to one. And there is a risky business model at work in all of them, the availability of a wireless network for those with the right devices to log on to the Internet and browse their emails or post on their Facebook wall while they sip their caffeinated concoctions. Contrary to any restaurant model that turns tables in thirty minutes, these joints want customers to stay up to a point, up to two hours. And they do, at the little round tables, space enough to accommodate one with a laptop or in the slightly overstuffed chairs arranged in conversation style or bistro tables lining the windows where one can watch the drive-up traffic. Seated there with his territory clearly marked by his coffee, his technology, his keys, his cell phone and the wallet that holds his badge is Detective Steve Alvarez.

It’s a Monday morning ritual for him, as much as investigating crime in a low-crime suburban incorporated city will allow. What happens here on Monday mornings is akin to the weekend after-party, not for anyone of any particular social interest or attraction. This place, much like Lowe’s, has become a mixer, a place for recent divorcees to put up their shingle and display their new singleness. One doesn’t arrive here in yoga pants having coiffe and face paint in place by accident. The comfy conversation area and bistro tables are more window merchandising than ergonomics for preparing Powerpoints and rehearsing for job interviews. It is a suburban neighborhood red-light district where the Johns are complicit and the girls nonchalant in this hook-up while they sip their grande skinny lattes.

It’s Pike Place for Alvarez. A tall. Nothing illegal is going on here. He is here out of habit because he likes the coffee and the transition this cafe makes from the weekend to the station. His PowerBook is open and he is checking through the postings of the weekend’s activity, new cases in his in box of which there is only one.


The screen scrolls showing an image of Doctor Reagan and other information, his home address, business address, profession, no AKAs, no criminal record. The detective scrolls back to the image. He picks up his cell, opens and speaks into it. “Home.” The phone dials and connects.

“Hey, you went with a midwife for Mikayla because of some doctor, right? What was his name?” he asks.

On the other end at a kitchen table in a gentrified Arts and Crafts home in the avenues is Steve’s wife, Serena and his young daughter Mikayla. They are beyond breakfast, into the routine of home school with manipulatives. Mikayla is dressed for the day, leaving her mommy in a faded favorite Oregon Ducks sweatshirt and pajama bottoms.

“It was Reagan. Doctor Reagan. Why?” she says.

Detective Alvarez clears his mouth of coffee. “He showed up on my log this morning.” He listens. “Since yesterday.” Then, “It’s not mature enough. Why didn’t you like him?”

There are bottle caps on the table, cola, grape, orange, root beer, and lemon-lime sodas. Mikayla groups them in fives.

“I had a bad experience with him when I was a teenager,” she says. Mikayla’s eyes are doing the math and now she not only groups them in fives, she groups them in fives by color. Her mommy, still on the phone, “He was the only OB in town then.”

“He was the only OB in town then,” Mikayla mimics.

Steve hears her, “Sorry, you’re in class now, I didn’t realize what time it is. Be good-”

Serena pulls her cell away from her ear and holds it to Mikayla’s, “-for mommy, Mikayla. I love you.”

WHAT REMAINS OF THE FURNITURE in the McDaniel great room is covered in clear visqueen making odd bubbles in the space that used to contain moments of Virginia laying on her daddy’s chest, sleeping in her mother’s arms, rolling on the floor watching a big purple dinosaur on TV and Stella at the ready by her side.

A loud banging comes from somewhere deeper in the house that rattles a drinking glass in the sink. Dust evacuates the hallway opening to the great room and the banging stops. Then there is the sound of a large heavy tool dropping into an enameled steel bathtub. From among the bubbles in the great room Ian can be seen leaving the hall bath, now brightly lit from inside and he marches out through the great room to the door that leads to the garage. He opens it and goes through and just as it slams shut it opens again, with Ian returning to his station in the bathroom armed with a Sawzall. The grating whir of its electric motor echoes off the bathroom’s hard surfaces and then resonates throughout the rest of the house, deep and high tones play on as the reciprocating saw removes what must be attached to the structure’s very foundation by the noise and vibration being made. Underscoring this power-tool roar are the two quarter-notes of the ringing doorbell. The Sawzall stops. Its staccato hangs just a microsecond longer. Then silence.

Ding dong. Ian sniffs back the dust in his nostrils, clears his throat. He’s heard the ring, but maybe they have gone away.

Ding dong.

Shit. This could only be- no one comes here- it’s 10:30, who’s at the door at 10:30?

Ding. Dong.

He has no story, no cover, no alibi. He hasn’t thought that far ahead or into that parenthetical. There is nothing that could be said to justify what’s been done – Doctor Reagan’s condition, his whereabouts, his detention. All Ian would be able to do, all he could do is face the facts and the consequences of his actions. He has nothing left to lose. Ian moves to the door, Sawzall in hand, and pulls it open.

It’s Bill. The neighbor. The guy from Lowe’s.

“Hey! Got the rest of the day off. You up for some racquetball?” he says.

Ian is dusted in drywall. His hair is thick with it, his face smeared from wiping away sweat.

“Kind of busy right now,” says Ian.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right.” Bill remembers the Lowe’s encounter. “Need a hand?”

“No, I’m okay.” Especially with the Sawzall.

“No, really,” Bill insists. “I’d be glad to help. Whatever it is you’re doing-”

“I’m remodeling the hall bath,” says Ian.

“Oh, um…” Oops.

“Taking out the wall between it and the master bedroom.”

Bill’s in the minefield now, treading carefully. “So you could use a hand?”

“Going to pull the tub out and do a shower instead, make a real master bath. Wanna see?”

Bill can’t back out now. If he did he would blow any credibility of sincerity. “Yeah, let’s see what you’re doing.”

Ian steps back into the house and Bill steps in, the odor inside is the first thing to strike him. Flooding leaves behind this same smell, or a tornado, the undoing of old construction, a mold mixed with the unlocked dust of gypsum released from its paper sandwich. Bill wants to turn around right now and leave, but Ian has closed the front door.

Bill’s wife told him she did it in the bathtub. The whole neighborhood knows. The giveaway was the emergency response without the emergency lights and sirens and the Coroner’s car and then the van from the mortuary and then the cops. It didn’t take much to figure it out.

Ian leads Bill between the bubbles to the opening of the hallway crossing into the bathroom. Bill stands at the threshold, instantly sickened. The bathtub. The bloody brown ring clings to its perimeter. Bloody purple latex gloves litter the bottom with a half dozen large coagulated gauze sponges and a demolition bar. Debris and dry wall dust season the artifacts like dirty powdered sugar on everything except the demo bar. The surround of the tub is four inch white tile over a cement backing screwed through a vapor barrier to the studs. Above it is drywall, the area where Ian started the remodel. Ian has blown through the tile backsplash of the tub surround with the demo bar to see what is underneath. If he can cut the backing out in big chunks with the Sawzall it would be less messy and easier to clean out. Ian is about ready to fill Bill in on all this.

Bill is fixated on the wine glass still somehow on its perch on the tub.

Ian pulls the demo bar from the tub and hands it to Bill.

“I need to take out this pony wall so I can get some leverage on the tub.”

Bill is frozen. Ian pushes the bar closer. Every single little sound, the debris under Ian’s Wolverines, his breathing, the leaky toilet, is amplified in the hard surfaces of this tiny chamber.

Bill breaks his stare from the wine glass, “I think you need to get some help, man.”

“Isn’t that what you’re here for?” says Ian.

“No, I mean some psychological help.”

Ian feigns surprise. He knows the expression, all its components, like the other six human emotions: fear, sadness, happiness, contempt, and anger.

“Why would you say that, Bill?”

“Don’t they have someone who can come and clean this up?”

“You think this is kind of weird?”

“Hasn’t anyone come by to help you out with this?”

There’s that mysterious third party, the they, the someone. Ian is unclear as to who exactly that would be. The folks at church? They stopped coming around when he and Linda stopped attending. The colleagues in the department? They are satisfied with the collection they took up to defray some of the funeral costs. The neighbors? One can only take so many casseroles. There are still some in the fridge that have never been eaten. And then there’s the old standby.

“Don’t you have any family coming to be with you?” asks Bill, cautious and deliberate.

“The only family I had left bled out in this tub five days ago.” Ian’s tone is deep and even.

Bill is left with nothing to say except that catch-all paper-thin parenthetical that does nothing but make its utterer feel a tad better, “If there’s anything I can do-” and he retreats through the hallway before he wretches and makes his way to the door.

“I just need a little help getting this tub out,” says Ian. And that’s truth of it all, really, for the moment at least. Bill is out the door.

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