Quoth the Raven
Detective Lois Porter leans forward.
“Come again, Bob?” Lois asks.
Just say that one word that’ll make you confess.
It’s the day after Halloween and a big, plastic, orange jack-o’-lantern bowl of mini-Milky Ways, Skittles, Baby Ruths, Kit Kats, Almond Joys, and other enablers of tooth decay lay on the table where she sits opposite Bob Donato.
That represents about a quarter of the haul Lois’s three boys extorted from neighbors last night before Lois declared “game over, guys” and led them back to their lair where they dumped the goodies on the kitchen table and began itemizing and trading. After Lois scooted them upstairs to bed—before a sugar rush could set in—she confiscated the sweets that Donato now stares at blankly.
Lois slides the candy closer to him.
“Help yourself, Bob.”
“I … there’s enough at home,” he whispers. His affect reminds Lois of someone who’s been pulled out of wreckage by the Jaws of Life.
“You take your kids out last night, Bob?”
“Like always. Me and Susan, my wife.”
And then what did you do, Bob? And then who did you see?
Lois glances down at her folder, which contains some of the deets.
Bob Donato. Forty-one years old, shaved head, runner’s build, goatee. Married with 2 children. He’d been read Miranda, and knows he’s being taped. Donato teaches high school, and students call him “Mr. D.” He’s one of the cool teachers, but he sweats now. Donato glances over at the door. No, there’s no way out.
“What did you just say before, Bob? Something about your feelings for Debbie?”
Donato sighs, lifts his gaze toward Lois, but his eyes shift to her shoulders, and then down to the floor.
“Do you want to call your attorney now, Bob?”
“You think I am one who has an attorney, Detective? I’m a teacher.”
“A great teacher by all accounts, including Debbie Rider’s.”
That word! Say it again!
Debbie Rider wanted to move to New York after she graduated college, and break into publishing. She lived at Temple University but came home a lot. Especially for holidays and Debbie loved Halloween, its very essence. The excitement of the kids, the autumn weather, the changing light, the sense of something magical touching down on planet Earth. All of it intoxicated her. The death of any young person shatters not only families but entire communities. But that Debbie should die on Halloween seemed to be a particularly cruel twist.
“I taught Debbie in two classes in high school,” Donato had said earlier. “Advanced English. She’s one who comes along every once in a while that reminds a teacher just how much influence he can have.”
When she graduated high school, Debbie Rider had given Donato a silver chain with a pendant that said “Quoth the Raven.” One of Debbie’s high school friends texted over a photo of it to Lois during the investigation.
Debbie’s body had been found in Lake Lenape Park, face down in the water. She’d been known to walk in the woods at night. She’d driven there, the car had been towed back to the lab people. There had been alcohol in her system, and she’d just broken up with a boyfriend. For a layperson, it might seem simple: Either an accident or suicide.
Lois hadn’t ruled out suicide, but from the first suspected that Debbie might have been murdered. Lois had arrived as forensics pulled the body out of the water. Orange, red, and gold trees reached toward a sky so blue that you almost expected an angel to wave hello—or weep.
Lois went right to work interviewing people. The friend who told of the pendant. The ex-beau who showed Lois texts proving that Debbie had broken with him, and selfies that chronicled his whereabouts. He’d been Superman at a frat boy Halloween beer blast down at Boathouse Row along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Red cape, blue tights, and even the lock of black hair that curled onto the forehead.
“She told me she loved someone else,” the boyfriend had explained about the breakup.
“Definitely not Mr. D.”
Homicide by drowning. Tough case. Forensic evidence gets compromised. Water in the lungs proves nothing. The cause of death itself could be anything from heart attack to stroke to drunkenness. There had been no bruising or other signs of a struggle. On Debbie Rider.
Now, Lois reaches into her pocket and with just the hint of flourish places a “Quoth the Raven” pendant on the table.
“You can order them online,” Lois says. “The real pendant – the pendant that interests us – is in the lake, Bob. We’ll find it. Debbie pulled it off you. That explains those marks on your neck.”
Debbie had wanted to break things off with Donato, as well. Totally. No more “just friends.” No more contact at all. She wanted to bury the mistake of having had an affair with her married high school English teacher.
“You and Debbie really had something special, didn’t you?”
Come on! Say it!
Lois knows that that one word would open the dyke and let truth flood the room. Donato looks up.
“Love, Detective,” Donato whispers. “I really did love Debbie Rider.”
“Go on, Bob,” Lois says, leaning forward.
Frank Diamond’s short stories have appeared in RavensPerch, the Examined Life Journal, Nzuri Journal of Coastline College, and the Fredericksburg Literary & Art Review. His poem “Labor Day,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his poetry appears in many publications. He lives in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.