The black figure of Joey passed through the door of her apartment with the grace of a bear.
Not that Joey had a bear appearance, he wasn’t big or anything. It just seemed like every move he made was somehow strained by some invisible strings that didn’t let him raise his arm a little higher or bend a little lower.
He was five foot nine and with what could have passed for a muscular body, if he kept his t-shirt on, obviously.
Still, he had the mass and the violence that made him dangerous on a one to one fight. Cassandra knew it well, a couple of time she even had to face his short temper. Probably it was more than a couple of time since she delighted herself in a game which involved testing how far she could push him before making him explode.
This game never took more than ten minutes so far.
She nearly got punched on the face once but, luckily for her, the jab landed on the wall. The plaster cast and Joey’s anger lasted at least three weeks.
Nevertheless Joey was a cheerful guy and, if you accepted to listen him blabbing about sports for an hour or two, everything was forgiven.
“Oh god, did you shave again?” asked Cassandra when he was in front of her. “You know I like you better if you keep your facial hair intact, it makes you look more…” she stopped herself before saying ‘beary’.
“I know, I know, but I was a mess and we cannot meet a client looking shitty” while he was saying that, his eyes scanned the girl’s outfit. The man face went blank and he just shrugged his shoulders, taking a breath from the cigarette.
“Fuck you. At least smoke outside, you know I hate it when you do it inside! And don’t give me that look, I am fabulous, I’m not gonna change!” said Cassandra, pushing him on the balcony. “And why are you even smoking, shouldn’t we be going right now?”
“Please, Cassie, cut me some slack, will ya? We’ve met, like half a second ago…”
“And you already act like a dushbag”
“…jeez, let me smoke this so I can explain a bit about today business, will ya?”
The curly head of the girl made a nod but her expression clearly said she didn’t want to be involved in any of Joey’s business.
They reached the balcony and the man turned to face her, letting out a small whiff of smoke in her face.
“If he does it again, we’re done” thought Cassandra, even if she had the good sense to keep it for herself.
Joey seemed to have become incredibly serious all of a sudden.
The two stood on the balcony, looking at each other, without saying anything.
When his cigarette had reached less than half of its length, Joey started talking.
“Our client is Linda Wright, her husband died few weeks ago, he was a surgeon in a private clinic somewhere in the East Cost, from what I’ve gather right now, a big shot. She moved back to her parents’ house after the funeral.”
He took a quick look at the old watch he was wearing.
“Better if we start going” he said interrupting his explanations and throwing the butt on the street.
The girl kept for herself the thought of letting him know there was an ashtray just behind his back and just followed him to the door with a resigned look.
After she’d locked both the apartment and the shop they started walking to reach the car, which was parked outside the shopping district since that was a pedestrian area.
“Would you mind continue your story?” asked Cassandra after minutes of waiting while her companion was just lost in thoughts.
“Yes, sorry, where was I?”
“Client, husband dead, big shot surgeon”
“Yes, well, she insisted to meet in a restaurant down in Houma, something about not wanting her parents to think she’s crazy…”
“Why would they think something like that?”
The two entered Joey’s Mercedes (which he loved very deeply).
“Well, her husband cause of dead was classified as suicide from the police”
“But she think it might be something more. She said he wasn’t the type to do something like that.”
“You know it’s always like that. It doesn’t mean there is some great conspiracy or anything behind.”
“I know, I know, but I’ve done some research anyway. She paid well and I wanted her to see I was doing something.”
“Are you trying to pretend you have such a big heart to help a poor widow find closure?.”
“No, I’m not, she paid really, really, really well.”
“I suspected it”.
Joey simply shrugged as the thing didn’t touch him.
“The thing is I really think there is something going on, I mean, the guy didn’t really have any reason why he could kill himself… if you want you can see that for yourself, there’s the file, right in the dashboard.”
Cassandra pull that out and started to look at the picture inside it.
“Well, he had a wife that looked like a Victoria’s Secret model, that’s for sure” she said “ and now I understand why you put some effort in this”.
“Do you really see me as this mean?” asked Joey, with a surprised look, as if he was unaware of what Cassandra really thought of him.
“No, don’t worry, I don’t” was her response, the pinch of sarcasm hidden inside it passed undetected under Joey’s radar.
“Anyway, I don’t know, I just have the feeling that there is more about this story than what we see. That’s why I wanted to ask you.” said Joey.
“You want to know if there may be something of my competence in this case.”
Joey turned his face and stared at her with a hard look.
She continued : “So what makes you think I might be of help?”
He started the car.
“I gotta know if there’s something more concerning this case. Just see what kind of feeling you get from the wife, I already asked her to bring something from our victim so you can work your tricks. The only thing I’m interested in, right now is to understand if we do have a case or if it just the ranting of a widow.”
“You’re always so tactful… you said earlier that you believed there was something more about this suicide right? Why?”
“Except for the wife? Well, from what I learned of the man, he had a pretty sweet life, graduated from medical school with good grades, married a year later with his high school crush, promoted to resident surgeon at the Goodwins plastic surgery clinic just a year ago… this guy had it all, wife, success, money… I thought he may have had some dirty little secret but he’s clean, there’s nothing that could explain him taking his life.”
“It’s not like normal people like that don’t have their own problems that seems for them good enough to die for… or maybe he had something to hide, it’s just that you couldn’t find it yet.”
“Are you saying that I can’t do my job anymore?”
“I said you couldn’t find anything yet, didn’t I?”
“Fuck you Cassie, Fuck you.”
“Ah… I love you too Joey”.
“Yes, yes, so what do you think?”
Cassandra shifted her attention back to the file.
She took another look at the picture of the young woman identified as the wife. The caption recited “Mrs. Bennett”.
Beneath the picture a small chart summarized the basic information about the woman: first name Judith, maiden name Anderson, age thirty – one, secretary for a law firm, both parents still alive, one sister, etc.
The second page of the file was similar to the first, only this time the main character was a man. “Mr. Bennett”, said the note.
Cassandra studied the photo with interest, trying to imagine the man smiling on the picture as a body on the coroner’s table, finding absurdly strange the thought of someone so young and healthy dying. She never actually got used to death, even with her job, it always felt like a distant and untouchable matter, that more than anything else only managed to confuse her.
This time the girl looked closely at the chart of Mr. Bennett’s data, trying to spot a clue that would enlighten the suicide.
As Joey said Mr. Gregory Bennett had a pretty simple and privileged life. There wasn’t anything in those few information that would point the investigation in a useful direction.
The other pages of the file actually contained what looked like a print of the police work about the death of Mr. Bennett.
Cassie was already bored about that all. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bennett looked like normal nice people and the case gave the feeling of being one of those that would solve themselves, eventually. She didn’t won’t to waste time reading about all the police investigation and quickly browsed the pages searching for pictures.
“Well? Anything popping up from it?” said Joey, noticing the carefree attitude of the girl.
“Nothing that you didn’t already anticipated so far, do I really have to read it all? Can’t you just tell me what it says?”
“Ah, Jeez, ok, just go to the EMI report then. Tell me what you think.”
Cassandra skipped a lot of pages before arriving at the pictures the coroner took to document the wounds on the body.
“Oh, I see” said the girl.
“See, I told you there were something off this suicide, so you agree with me, don’t ya?”
Cassandra watched the picture more carefully this time, bending over them to watch the details closer.
The cause of dead seemed to be the huge hole Mr. Bennett had in his face. The possibility that the man was poisoned, before he could blow his head off, had to be considered but, since the tox screen came clean, there wasn’t much left.
The ting that tickled Cassandra attention was the fact that, even if the huge shoot gun that the detectives found on the scene was in the doctors hands, there wasn’t any gun powder on the wound.
The lieutenant in charge of the investigation had dismissed the fact with the possibility that, having to keep the gun inside his mouth, Mr. Bennett had shot out every trace of powder.
Cassandra didn’t buy it.
The pattern of the wound indicated a medium distance shoot, as if someone else pulled the trigger. In that case though there should have been gun powder. It wasn’t there.
If you add that the shoot gun was in Mr. Bennett hands and that both the only window and the door were found closed from the inside, the theory of a mysterious killer seemed exactly just a theory. At least for someone who hadn’t seen the things that Cassie had seen.
Mr. Bennett had decided to shot himself in a cheap motel, just in New Orleans outskirts. He had been found by a poor waitress with his hand still clenching the fire arm; the brain matter splattered on the cheap artwork above the bed.
The pictures on the report were a lot less of impact than what the scene would have look like in person and Cassie thanked her good star for not having to go personally on the scene like the New Orleans policemen.
“I guess his life wasn’t so perfect after all…”
“Do you think it could have anything to do with That?” asked Joey, trying to sound casual but still wavering at the end.
Cassandra closed the file and put it back where she founded it before turning her face to Joey.
He didn’t turn and kept his eyes fix on the road ahead, feigning a relaxed look.
It had been years since he first found out about “That” and it had been countless times that he asked for help from Cassandra. Never less he still was uneasy dealing with anything that exit what he called “his comfort zone”.
“Seeing that, I’d say probably, but it’s still too early to be certain of anything, at this point” answered the girl, still staring at him with her brow eyes that got enchanted with some green stripes by the sunlight coming from the car window.
“Mhm… I see… I guess you’re right. You need to run you’re tests?”
“If you like to call them that, yes, I need to verify for myself before giving you any confirmation. Still this thing is pretty weird. There is probably something involved.”
“Shit. I’m starting to believe that meeting you was a bad omen, it’s been practically five years since I had a normal case!”
“What about the cheating lover of the other day?”
“You know what I mean! Uff… shit.”
“Ok, ok, what did you said to Mrs. Anderson?”
Joey looked a bit confused before realizing that Cassandra had used the maiden name of Mr. Bennett’s wife.
“Please Cassie, don’t take out this feminist shit in front of the client later! She wants to be called Mrs. Bennett and the hell with your ideas about emancipation, ok?”
Cassie snorted and replied with a choked “Ok”.
“So what did you told her about me?” she asked again.
“Well, we only spoke on the phone so far, something about being busy with the funeral and everything else… anyway, I told her I sometime ask the help of a psychiatrist to assess this type of cases, it’s not really a lie, isn’t it?”
“It is since I don’t have a degree, idiot. Couldn’t you say I’m just a consultant? Fuck. I really do hate you. So? Did you remember to ask her to bring her husband things?”
“Yes, yes, don’t worry, I told her we needed them for checking them. She said that some stuff had been thrown away though. Luckily she kept the clothes.”
“And the gun?”
“Dunno about that. Guess we will find out when we arrive at the appointment.”
“Mhm… guess so… Seeing the body may help too…”
“Sorry Cassie, Mr. Bennett is already six feet under the ground, worms and everything else.”
“Right… Maybe we should pay a visit to the motel then…”
“The police’s already been there thousands of times, I doubt you’d find anything more than what they already had…”
“Jeez, Joey, five years and you’re still doubting me? Unbelievable!” said Cassandra bursting into laughing.
“Right…” Joey started blushing.
When Cassandra stopped giggling an awkward silence filled the car.
A part from the cases they were working on, Joey and Cassie had only so much to say to each other.
“So… how was the game the other night?” she asked to fill up the silence.
Joey had recently bought the cable so he could watch Italian and English football matches. He liked any kind of sports, from tennis to swimming, anything that could have the slightest appearance of a competition, but his real passion was football (if you even tried to call it soccer you should start to run for your life). Cassandra had been fascinated by this because it was unusual for an American to not prefer something like American football or basketball.
Once Joey confided her it was because his British grandpa loved Manchester United so much that it had become a ritual to watch the matches together, in the sport bar. When his grandpa had passed away, Joey kept going anyway; the passion had been planted in him too deeply and he could not miss the appointment anymore.
“It was good” replied Joey, noticing the move Cassie tried to pull.
She snorted: he could be the biggest fan of football ever but knew that she knew nothing about the sport, which made it a lot less fun to talk about since he had to explain her everything.
Cassandra decided that, if they were not going to talk, at least some music would resolve the awkwardness.
She pulled out of her bag the cell phone and nearly pressed play on the scream when Joey stopped her.
“Don’t even try to put on Your music, Cassie” he said.
“Why not? It’s great music!” she replied.
“No, it’s not.”
Joey had a tone of voice that didn’t seem like it would even consider a reply.
“If you want music, we’re gonna listen to My mp3.” He was categorical.
“Oki d’oki, but I’ll choose, good enough?”.
Cassie didn’t had any intention to listen to some rap or romantic – melodic rock. It’s not like she was picky with the genders, she was just picky with the songs. If a song had to be admitted in her limited range of favorites, it had to have some peculiar characteristics. Actually, the most important and only requirement was that Cassandra should have been able to sing it along or dance on it. If one of those option weren’t possible, the song was automatically store in the “Crap Box” in her mind. Few exceptions were reserved for songs that may stir some nostalgia from her past or that she linked to people she knew.
To pair her often queer sense of taste in music, there was her habit of always singing along her favorite songs. She did had a beautiful voice but no sense of rhythm and Joey had frequently feign ignorance of their relationships when she started singing in the hall of the mall or in the streets.
“Yeah, ok, do that” said Joey.
After scouting his playlist for a while, Cassandra decided to go with ‘How to Save a Life’ by the Fray.
From then on, she let the playlist go on with only few interruption, clearly singing every song, while Joey drove silently.