Although she’d been half-expecting the call, it still caught Ru completely off guard when after verifying that it was indeed Ruth Porter to whom he was speaking, the caller identified himself as Detective Lance Honeycutt with the Special Crimes division of the Los Angeles Police Department. His name struck her as oddly comical, and the thrust of that, coupled with her nervousness over being questioned about something so horrific, caused her to giggle before the interrogation even got started.
“Have I caught you at a bad time, Miss Porter?”
She cleared her throat, eyeing the two Gorton’s fish filets she’d just taken out of the oven, now cooling on top of the range. She’d been about to pour herself a glass of wine when the phone rang. She’d started a new practice this week: changing into a romper and having a glass of wine when she returned home from work. The plucky New York heroines in the Kate White novels she bought off the Barnes and Noble $6.98 hardcover table always slipped into a silk jumper and had a glass of wine after an exhausting day of scurrying about the city, slapping dapper men’s faces with their long leather gloves. Wearing an article of clothing that came off in one swoosh and drinking wine was sexy. Sophisticated. Lana Turner. Maybe frozen fish didn’t fit the image, but the strapless Lycra and denim jumper she’d changed into and the glass of Bordeaux smacked of minx.
“Miss Porter?” Detective Stone Butterball was growing impatient.
“Uh, yes, I’m here. Sorry.”
“A bad time?” he asked. Like he cared.
“No, no. I was just about to have dinner.”
“Well I apologize in advance for taking up your time,” which wasn’t an apology at all because if he gave two shits he would call back later, after she’d eaten. Maybe he knew she was about to eat frozen fish; surely such a delectable feast could wait. Then again, food like that didn’t get more delicious as it sat—
“What? I’m sorry. I was thinking about my dinner.”
There. If he wasn’t going to feel sorry, maybe he could at least feel bad.
“You’re acquainted with Tate Pearson.”
It wasn’t a question, still she felt compelled to answer as such.
If things were starting out this way, she didn’t stand a chance.
“We’re looking into the homicide of his wife. You’re familiar with that?”
“The homicide of his wife? I know about it, yes. I wouldn’t use the word ‘familiar—’”
“And how do you know Mr. Pearson?”
She fidgeted at the counter, rubbing the top of one foot with the toes of the other, wishing he’d called her cell instead of the land line. She really wished she could sit on the couch for this.
She was quiet. That was what she had said, right? She knew how these cops operated. She watched every incarnation of Law and Order. She knew they said as little as possible, hoping the person they were interviewing would fill the silence. But not Ru Porter. She would answer only the question asked, and she wouldn’t answer it twice.
“When was the last time you saw him?” the next question finally came.
“Um, about a month ago.”
Silence. Boy, she was good at this. Just as good as Detective Rock Hamshank.
Long silence. Tenderloin took a breath. His impatience had manifested into annoyance. “Where in Burbank?”
Another breath. Then, “Look, Ruth, we know you were fucking him behind his wife’s back, so let’s cut the crap and make this less painful for both of us. The quicker we get to the point, the quicker I can file away this interview and you can get back to your pathetic single woman Lean Cuisine microwave meal.”
Whoa, whoa! Who the hell did he think he was talking to? And how did he know about the crap boxed frozen meal?
“Excuse me,” she demanded, her face red hot.
“Obviously you’re giving me a hard time about something, Ruth. Hiding something. I thought I’d remove the obstacle and then you could stop being such an evasive cunt. Unless you’re hiding something else.”
OMG, had he actually just called her the c-word? Tears prickled in her eyes. Why was he being so mean? She hadn’t done anything wrong. She hadn’t even done what he was accusing her of. At least if she’d actually slept with Tate, maybe this abuse would be half worth it, if not exactly warranted.
“I’m not hiding anything,” she said lowly, trying to keep her composure. This asshole would not know he rattled her if she could help it. “And I was not fucking him.”
“But you wanted to be, didn’t you, Ruth?”
She shook her head, the tears rolling down her cheeks. How had this phone call turned on her so completely, so fast? How had this even happened? Did the police really talk to people this way? Maybe this wasn’t a detective at all. Maybe this was a prank phone caller.
She suddenly disconnected the call, placing the phone down on the counter, staring at it as if it were a squashed bug that somehow magically returned to animation the moment you tried to pluck it up with a tissue. Her stomach too upset now to digest breaded greasy fish, she dumped it into the trashcan, then—realizing it would smell up the entire house until trash day—she dug it out of the can and stuffed it down the garbage disposal. She was in the middle of grinding it up when the phone rang. Knowing it was Honeyfuck, she let it go to voicemail. She waited a good five minutes before listening to the message.
“Ruth Porter, it’s Detective Lance Honeycutt. Call me back within twenty-four hours please, or I’ll call you once and hour after then until I get to speak with you. I’m not going away, Miss Porter. Have a nice evening.”
He left his number twice.
Have a nice evening. Was he kidding? There was no way she was calling him back, but she certainly didn’t want to stew on his interrogation all evening, or anticipate his harassing phone calls all day tomorrow.
She settled onto her couch and looked up the number to the Burbank Police Department on her iPhone. After much shuffling around and dialing three different numbers, she was finally put in touch with Detective Roina Hathaway, one of the detectives with the Los Angeles Special Crimes Division that was handling the Elaine Pearson homicide. She was connected with Detective Hathaway by request.
“Anyone but Lance Honeycutt, please,” she told the operator.
Speaking with Detective Roina Hathaway as compared to Honeycutt was the difference between eating marshmallows and the cloves that always seemed to find their way into Ru’s mouth while eating her mother’s Christmas ham. Her voice was soft and melodic, and it occurred to Ru that she’d just been good cop-bad copped; she’d had a first taste of Elliott Stabler and now she was being treated to a helping of Olivia Benson. And she didn’t care. It didn’t matter who was better at this police interview game. Obviously they were, and she just wanted to get this over with and never talk to them again.
“Why don’t you tell me about your relationship with Tate,” Roina asked soothingly, like a conversation with a bestie over cappuccino and scones.
“I don’t really have a relationship with Tate,” Ru heard herself confessing. “I knew him a long time ago. I always had a crush. My job called for me to be in Burbank, so I looked him up on Facebook and we met for dinner.”
“Just dinner?” Olivia prodded.
“Well, we first met at the bookstore, then went to dinner, then had lunch the next day, before I had to leave.”
“Is that all?”
“Mm-hmm,” Ru said, closing her eyes, as if shutting them could also remove the lilt of lie in her voice.
“That’s not all that happened, is it, Ruth?”
“It is. I mean, we had a little to drink, so there was a little kissing, but it never went further than that. We weren’t having an affair. When I came back home, to Baltimore, I actually kicked myself for not taking it farther.”
Much the way I want to kick myself right now, Ru thought as a new tack of interest seized Roina’s tone and line of questioning.
“You still have that crush, huh?”
When Ru didn’t answer, Olivia said, “It never goes away, does it? The one that got away and all that. I think we all have one of those.”
“You have one of those?” Ru couldn’t help but ask, even as at the same time her insides screamed that this woman was not her friend, stop talking to her as if she was. She was only looking to twist anything Ru might give to her, use it against her.
“Yeah. I do. I mean, I’m married, but there are a few guys that my husband and I agree that I can have a free pass on.” She chuckled softly, and Ru rolled her eyes. Roina wasn’t as smooth as she liked to think she was.
“So, what did you and Tate talk about after the kissing? It must have been awkward, huh?”
Ru kicked her feet at the air like a child who couldn’t have her chocolate pudding before eating her broccoli. God, she so wanted to end this call.
“Look, Detective, I know you have this script you have to follow, you’re trained in the ways of information gathering and all that, and you’re very good at it, you are. But the main points you’re looking for are going to remain the same regardless of the road we take with this conversation. My job sent me to Burbank. I know Tate lives there. The last time I saw him was twenty years ago. The notion of seeing him again made me feel like that carefree teenager again. I went out there thinking all kinds of ridiculous things, romantic things, like we were going to meet up and hump all night long in the Beverly Hills Hotel. We had dinner. We made out in the backseat of his car. He stopped it. He called me the next day and we met for lunch. He apologized for the way he behaved. I got the sense that if he wasn’t married, that if it was twenty years ago, he would have fucked me back, front, upside down and sideways. But he was married, we’re not carefree kids anymore, so we decided the what-if remain a what-if and now here we are. If it was entirely up to me, I would have come back to Baltimore finally having screwed Tate Pearson. I didn’t have anything to do with his wife’s death, and although I don’t know Tate very well in present day, never really knew him that well back then, either, in fact everything I know about Tate is probably made up in my own head, I believe with all my heart he had nothing to do with his wife’s death, either. Does that cover it? Does that tell you what you need to know?”
Detective Hathaway was silent for a moment, and Ru could tell she was writing something down, or typing it up.
“It’s sufficient, yes, Ruth. One more question: can you account for your whereabouts last Tuesday?”
“Yes. I was working, here in Baltimore. I’ve been in Baltimore since leaving Burbank last month.”
“I’m sorry; one more question: will you be coming to the funeral?”
Oh. That was an odd question, Ru thought. Would they want to interview her again? Was that why she was asking?
“I plan to,” she answered truthfully.
“Fine. Thanks again, Ruth. I apologize if it got unpleasant at times.”
“Well, murder is unpleasant now, isn’t it?”
“Indeed. Gosh, I’m sorry. One more question.”
Ru threw her head back on the arm of the couch and actually groaned. Roina heard.
“I know. Sorry. How did you hear about Elaine Pearson’s murder?”
“On Facebook. I was looking at Tate’s page and saw all the postings from his friends. I searched the Internet for the details and read several news reports on it.”
“Right. And when was the next time you spoke to Tate?”
Ru sighed. Enough was enough.
“I’m sorry, Detective, but I really don’t want to talk about this anymore. I’m tired and hungry and still quite offended by my treatment at the hands of Detective Honey Ham. If there are things you feel you still must discuss with me, can we do it later? Tomorrow or the day after, perhaps? I really have to go now.”
“Of course, Ruth. Again, my apologies. I’ll be in touch if I need anything further. And of course, you can always call me, and I encourage you to do so, if you think of anything else that you feel might be important for me to know. Even if it’s not important.”
“Yes, yes, I will, Detective,” Ru assured her, cutting her off.
Roina Hathaway gave Ru the number to her direct line, as well as cell phone. “Have a good evening, Ruth.”
“You, too,” she said.
She laid her head back for a moment, her cell face down on her chest, staring up at the ceiling. Should she call Tate? Is that what the police expected her to do? Would they take it as some sign of guilt on her part? Then again, wouldn’t calling Tate and telling him of the interview regarding his wife’s death be the most natural thing for Ru to do? He was the person in common. Would it be more suspicious not to call him?
She knew exactly who she needed to talk to right now.
She jumped off her couch, tucked her cell phone inside the top of her jumper, grabbed her keys and headed out the door.