Copyright Notice © 2016 Tim Knox
Susan wasn’t looking at the camera when the video began. She was looking down, rolling a joint from a bag of pot in her lap. She was humming to herself; some tune I didn’t recognize. She brought the joint to her lips and licked the edge to seal it. She lit it with the disposable lighter. She looked at the camera and let go a smoky laugh.
“Oops, sorry,” she said with a grin. She put the bag of pot on the table and waved the joint though the air. “Busted! It’s okay, officer, I have a card!”
She giggled a bit as she waved away the smoke. By her demeanor I assumed it was not her first joint of the night. She cocked her head to the side and made a goofy face. It made me smile.
She coughed a little, then tossed the lighter on the coffee table and took a long hit on the joint. She looked as if she’d lost even more weight in the few days since I last saw her. The lights in the video were dim, which made her look even more ghostly, as if she could just vaporize into the pot smoke and float away.
I looked around the table. The bag of pot wasn’t there. Neither was the bright-yellow lighter. The bag on the video was smaller than the stash in the mayonnaise jar in the fridge.
I figured out how to make the video full screen so I could see her better. Even then the video was grainy, dark, but I could tell that she was wearing the clothes that she was found in. The purple scarf found around her neck was wrapped around her head. She tugged off the scarf and let it fall around her neck. She ran a hand across her bald head.
“Sorry, but this thing itches.” She brought the joint to her lips. She stared at herself on the screen as the smoke curled around her face. She seemed to be thinking deeply about something. She leaned into the screen. I leaned in with her. For a moment I thought she might whisper my name. Instead, she set the joint in the ashtray and leaned back. She waved at the smoke and cleared her throat.
“Okay, so, my name is Susan Marie Harris. For the last three years I’ve been using my mother’s name, Sarah Woodley. I’m 34 years old and my address is 2355 Village Road, Santa Rosa, California. I can’t say I’m of sound mind or body at the moment, but no one is going to fight over what little I have left, so screw it. This is my last will and testament.”
I winced at the words. I wasn’t expecting to see this. I studied her face. There were no tears in her eyes, no hesitation in her voice. She was solid as a rock, high as a kite. I could only assume that she had reconciled herself to do what she felt must be done and this was the last detail to take care of.
She picked up the water bottle and took a quick drink, then screwed on the top and set it aside. “I’ve transferred my measly savings and the money my mother left me to an account at the Bank of America in Santa Rosa in my real name. The account details have been given to my dear friend and executor, Dana Anderson, administrator at the Santa Rosa Assisted Living Center. It is my wish that the money already in the account and any money Dana generates from the sale of my furniture and other personal effects here be donated to the American Cancer Society in my mother’s name.”
She looked directly into the camera and patted her chest above her heart. “Dana, I love you so much. You’ve been such a good friend. Thank you for sticking by me and agreeing to hold my hand when the time comes. Just talk to Mr. Everett at the bank, he has everything prepared for you and…”
There was a sudden sound off camera that made her jump. She looked to her left, in the direction of the sliding patio door. The sound came again. I knew it was the sound of the door being pried open. Her eyes widened. She glanced at the camera and her lips moved, but she made no sound. She looked horrified. She pushed herself off the couch and moved quickly to her right, away from the door. I could hear muffled voices, Susan telling someone to stay away, then what sounded like a scuffle.
I could hear her pleading. She sounded helpless, saying, “Please, no, please…” There was at least one other person in the room with her now; a man, his voice was deep, but inaudible. I immediately thought of Ahmed Omar. There was a muffled cry, then the sounds moved away from the living room, probably toward the bedroom. Just before the noise ended I heard Susan scream one last time, then a door slammed shut.
I sat back on the couch with a hand covering my mouth, too stunned to move. I let the video run for another five or six minutes, waiting for something else to happen. It was like watching a still photo as the status bar moved slowly toward the right. The only other sound on the video came just before the screen went dark. I turned the volume all the way up. I could hear someone coming back into the room. I could hear rustling close to the laptop. I looked at the table. The son of a bitch took her bag of dope. It was then he probably closed the laptop, ending the video program, maybe to roll a joint on it, who knows. I was surprised he didn’t steal her laptop, too, but maybe he was smart enough to know that it would tie him back to the murder he had just committed.
My hands were shaking. My stomach was in my throat. I had to get out of there before I threw up. I shut down the computer and set it on top of the photo album. You could argue that I was stealing evidence and I wouldn’t disagree, but I wasn’t ready to turn anything over to the Santa Rosa cops just yet.
I walked through the apartment once more, now heavy with the knowledge that someone – probably Ahmed Omar — had broken through the patio door, overtook Susan, and forced her into the bedroom, where he killed her and made it look like a suicide. I went back to the bedroom and switched on the light. I stood in the doorway for a minute, letting my eyes go around the room again. The killer had covered his tracks well. There was no sign of a struggle here, and if there was, the cops and EMTs trampled it without knowing.
I noticed again the lack of personal effects in the room. Susan wasn’t the type to leave burdens on others. Maybe she had boxed up everything so Dana Anderson wouldn’t have to bother. Maybe there were things in those boxes that would help me figure out what had happened here.
I put the latex gloves back on and went to the closet door and slid it open. Sure enough, there were half dozen boxes stored there. Susan had neatly labeled each one. Several held clothes and shoes; two contained kitchen items; and another held curling irons, makeup, and other things from the bathroom. I pulled each box from the closet and went through it thoroughly. There was nothing there to show that the items even belonged to her. Even the clothes had been freshly washed before being packed. Her scent was nowhere to be found.
I pushed the last box back into the closet and slid the door shut. I sat on the carpet with my back to the wall. I was suddenly very tired. I looked at my watch. It was nearly seven. I’d been there almost two hours. My head was pounding and my back and shoulders were in knots, but I was far from calling it a day. I had to call Reuben, had to tell him about the video, about Ahmed Omar, about everything, get the Santa Rosa cops back out to go over the place with a fine toothed comb. It was going to be a long night.
I started to get up. That’s when I noticed it. It was just under the edge of the bed, a few inches back. If the comforter hadn’t been pulled up on the bed I would have never seen it. I crawled to the bed and leaned down to carefully pick it up gently by one corner.
It was an origami swan made from a hundred dollar bill.