At first he felt a kind of confusion.
He looked down at his shoes as if to make sure that the plank of cement he was standing on was, in fact, his driveway.
Then he looked up again at the empty space where his car should have been.
After calls to the office postponing a meeting and shifting a proposal revision to an underling, Robert waited impatiently on the same slab of concrete for the police while his wife stood beside him apologizing.
“If I hadn’t filled the garage with those fabric samples then this wouldn’t have happened,” she said, clinging to the edge of her robe and shaking her head.
“It’s alright,” he answered without looking at her, glad that she had offered it up before his resolve wore thin and he said it himself.
When the police arrived, he gave them all the relevant information about the car, casting more and more frequent glances at his watch while he became more concerned about what he was missing at the office than the missing car.
“Was that an ‘ES’ you said?” one of the officers asked.
“Hmm,” she mumbled back.
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“You said you had your keys, sir? You couldn’t have left them in the vehicle?”
“No, no, they’re right here.” He showed them the keyring. “Why? I don’t understand.”
“It’s just those cars are pretty hard to steal,” the other officer explained while eying the garage door. “Do you know where your spare keys are?”
“My wife has them in her purse.”
“Are you sure?”
“We can check when she gets back from dropping off the kids at school, but I’m pretty sure. Couldn’t they have just hot-wired it or something?”
“Nope. The security features on your automobile are excellent, sir. Can’t be started without the key–or a dealer’s key.”
“We’ll canvas the dealers and see if one’s gone missing or if there are other reports of thefts.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Meantime, have you contacted them yourself? That vehicle has a standard GPS. They should be able to lock it down.”
“Um, yes, I called. They said they couldn’t locate it.”
“Yes, that’s what they said.”
“See, that’s weird, too.”
“It would take a real professional to hack the car and do all that.”
“Was there anything else special about the car, sir? Any special features that would make it worth all that?”
“Engine of solid gold, maybe?” one asked with a smirk.
“Not that I know of.”
Deb pulled back in from dropping off the kids and he made his excuses to the officers so that she could drive him to the train station.
“We’ll let you know if we find anything out, sir. Have a good day.”
“As good as possible with this kind of start,” the other suggested.
In the car ride, he didn’t talk to his wife, but instead spent the time navigating the touch-tone menus of the insurance company, cursing at each new list of possible buttons to push and eventually shouting into the phone, “Just give me a damned human being.”
Deb rolled to a stop at the station, “Sorry again, honey.”
He shook his head at her as if to say it was nothing serious and climbed out. He offered a half-wave over his shoulder while he trotted toward the train, cursing at the computerized voice coming off a computer server in San Antonio.
He bumped into Davis in the elevator and ran through several scenarios for the portfolio they were putting together for their clients in Tokyo on the ride up, then the two men split paths at the ding of the elevator and Robert headed for his office.
At the desk out front, his assistant Sophie stared blankly at the window thirty feet away and didn’t register his approach.
He called her name and she started, shaking her head twice. It looked like the kind of affected gesture a bit player on a sitcom uses when, as some kind of punchline, someone else enters the room covered in honey and feathers or dressed like a hooker clown or whatever.
“You with me, Sophie?”
“Yes, sir, sorry. Just really tired this morning.”
He imagined derisively what might have kept her up so late on a Sunday, maybe an all-night bender with the girls from the outer office or more likely a drugged-up orgy arranged by the SoHo-wannabe boyfriend he imagined she must have.
“You remember what kind of morning I’ve had, right?” he said, looking down at the seam of brown roots showing through the center of her supposedly blonde, shoulder-length bob.
“Oh, yes, sir. Did they find your car?”
“No, afraid not. Get me Suzanne Myers on the phone, will you? Then I’ll take whatever other notes you have for me.”
It felt impossible to catch up. He didn’t even have time to take a lunch, instead spending the whole day on the phone, pouring through spreadsheets, or popping between one office or another shoring up planks in their presentation for the following week. When Sophie returned ten minutes late from her lunch break, he buzzed her and asked her to stay a little after five to help him catch up, figuring that saying nothing about her tardiness would leverage the extra time. He kept her going through past tax filings all afternoon.
The outer office started to clear as long shadows fell over Broadway, eventually bringing on a long, grey eclipse.
Eventually, Sophie came in with several folders and set them on the edge of the desk as he paced behind his chair, staring into the gray chasm outside and laughing through the cell phone connection at something ridiculous Williams upstairs had just said.
When he hung up and turned, Sophie started explaining her progress in a rapid staccato.
“And this folder has everything from ’09,” she said, laying open one of them and flipping past the first few pages.
“Let me see.”
Robert stepped in, but Sophie didn’t seem to sense him coming and in reaching for the folder, his hand brushed over the length of silk covering her right breast.
The girl jumped back soundlessly.
He grabbed the paperwork without looking at her. He refused to indulge her penchant for melodrama. A few months before she had had to be coaxed teary-eyed from a bathroom stall over some imagined insult. He didn’t have the time and patience for it now. He felt her jostled, nervous little bones stiffening and her eyes going doe-wide behind him, but he simply refused to be drawn into some awkward exchange with her.
In fact, suddenly, he didn’t want to put up with any of it.
“That’s great,” he told her. “Just put it all back in order for me and we’ll go from there tomorrow.” He picked up his phone off the desk where he’d set it down and turned. “It’s been a long day, I think we’re good now. I’m going to head home early.”
She said nothing else as he walked past her and out of the office.
He called Deb and told her that he’d be early–in time for dinner on a weeknight for once.
The boys were elated. Taylor and Dillon prattled on endlessly about their days at school. Taylor, in particular, had been captivated on a lesson about Impressionism where they got to plop big dollops of paint on coarse paper. Robert smiled and nodded, wondering what kind of curriculum taught first graders about Monet.
The kind you’re paying twenty-two hundred a month for, he answered himself.
After dinner, the boys cleared their plates and headed upstairs for baths. Robert stayed at the table, letting Deb pour him a glass of wine–some Shiraz she swore by. He listened to her talk about her contract for Yale’s alumni association with the same feigned interest he’d allotted to Dillon’s summary of his alphabetical studies.
Then came the knock on the door.
He shot up quickly and waved Debra down when she offered to get it. He also shouted into the kitchen so their live-in wouldn’t bother either. Through the chiseled glass of the front door he saw two unfamiliar figures. Out of habit, he rested one hand on the alarm console’s panic button while he pulled open the door with the other.
The two men introduced themselves as Detectives Bransford and Mentelle and, “Would you please come with us, Mr. Blancstone?”
“Did you find my car?”
“No, sir, you are under arrest,” and then, quite absurdly, they followed the whole script from the TV shows. He had half a mind to press the panic button and summon the real police, but he thought the whole thing might be some sort of harmless joke.
He told them as much.
“It’s a serious charge of sexual assault, sir. Are we going to have to physically restrain you, sir?” Mentelle asked, with a beckoning motion of his hand. Robert noticed for the first time that Bransford’s hand was resting on his holster and that cuffs were already clasped in his other hand.
“No, but…I need to…” he said weakly, turning behind him. Naturally, he thought of Sophie, but he clamped his mouth shut before saying anything.
“You need to come with us, sir.”
By now Debra had come to the foyer with curious eyes that quickly transformed when she saw the look on his face.
“Deb, call Martin. Have him meet me–hey, where are you taking me?”
That answer turned out to be complicated. There were apparently some logistical dilemmas in play since he was being arrested in one jurisdiction, but the alleged crime took place in the city. Four different officers explained this conundrum to him as he was ferried about, waiting three hours total for his interrogation to finally begin.
By then, though, Martin was there.
His lawyer–or rather, the company’s lawyer–sat beside him as a new pair of officers explained the accusations. After the parade of law enforcement personnel he’d been treated to, he didn’t bother to catch these latest names.
Robert was told that, after her shift was over, he had ordered his secretary to remain behind and then instructed her to join him in his office alone. Then, without warning, he had pushed her forward over his desk and violated her.
This seemed beyond the reach of Sophie’s histrionics. He found himself running through the possibilities. Had someone else come into the office just after him? “This has got to be some kind of mistake,” he said, shaking his head.
“I think the mistake was taking advantage of your secretary,” the taller of the two said.
“Administrative assistant,” Robert corrected. “We have to call them administrative assistants now.”
The officer opened his mouth with an extension of his jaw that suggested he was about to play through his best “bad cop” routine, but Martin leaned forward and interjected.
“Officer Rice,” he said calmly. “Let’s go over this moment by moment. You allege that this attack took place at approximately 6:15 in the evening.”
Martin produced a computer tablet from his brief case. “This is a security image from our lobby’s cameras. You will see that this is clearly my client, Robert Blancstone, and that the time stamp indicates that Mr. Blancstone was in the lobby at 6:07 PM today.”
“We–” the other officer tried to say.
“We will of course make the original files available to you and the district attorney,” Martin continued. “Granted, your witness’s recollection could be off by several minutes, but Mr. Blancstone’s wife’s call record also indicates that he initiated a phone conversation with her at 6:03.”
“It I could continue,” he said, and did so without waiting for any further remark from the police. “Likewise, I have confirmed that the call log from one of Mr. Blancstone’s associates, Kelley Williams, confirms that Mr. Blancstone hung up with him at only 5:52. Now, that leaves a narrow eleven minute window for the alleged crime.”
“A rape like this doesn’t require a lot–”
“I’m aware of that, but you need to also be aware of our office culture. Mr. Blancstone is in high finance, gentlemen. They do not generally leave work early. Mr. Blancstone did today because he had a particularly trying morning, but generally, these men and women can be found in their offices until eight, nine, later.”
“What’s your point?”
“There are two offices adjacent to Mr. Blancstone’s. Both were occupied until well after seven o’clock today. I’ve spoken to both parties and both have assured me that they are willing to give depositions to the effect that they heard no unusual disturbances in Mr. Mountblanc’s office during the time period in question.”
“How did you get all this information so quickly–”
“It was not difficult, but I’ll invite you to confirm all of this after we leave.”
“Leave?” one of them said in alarm. “Your client is being charged with a felony. He’s not leaving any time soon,” he said.
The other officer, though, laid his palm on his partner’s back and gestured for Martin to continue.
“Additionally, as to Mr. Blancstone’s whereabouts and behavior, I spoke with a member of our maintenance staff who was in the outer office this evening between 5:45 and 6:27. He specifically recalls both seeing Mr. Blancstone leave his office and that the door was open prior to his departure.”
Both officers’ eyes seemed to withdraw, as if being pulled back by coils into their sockets.
“Finally, these are personal documents for Ms. DeClara,” he said, passing over two faxed pages. “You’ll see that she has twice filed sexual harassment complaints that were never substantiated. The second case was investigated by the NYPD and your colleagues could not find any evidence to support her complaint.” Martin closed his case. “Now, you gentlemen can make the mistake of pushing for arraignment, but I would not recommend it. You can confirm all this independently, but Mr. Blancstone is in the midst of very important business for our firm that is time sensitive. If Mr. Blancstone is kept here overnight, then you will be endangering millions of dollars in revenue for the company. If that were to happen, we would be compelled to seek restitution in civil court for wrongful arrest.”
The officers rubbed their foreheads a few times and then excused themselves. Martin patted Robert on the shoulder and assured him that the whole affair was almost over.
Robert didn’t even have time to finish saying, “This is a night–” before the officers returned and he was given an apology for his lost time.
After regaining his possessions, Martin met him on the steps outside. “I’ve had someone from security contact Ms. DeClara at the hospital. She’s being told that she is not to reenter the building. She’ll be given a generous severance package and her personal belongings will be mailed to her.”
“Jesus,” Robert gasped, pulling up his home number on the screen of his phone. “I just don’t know why she would do this.”
“Who can say,” Martin said. “Come on now, we’ll get you home.”
Robert called home to tell Debra to go to sleep, he’d be home soon, but she was jittery and wanted more explanation. “It’s just like Martin told you,” Robert explained. “All just a big mistake. It’s all cleared up now.” His explanations didn’t satisfy her, but he was too weary to talk further so he urged her again to go to sleep and hung up.
Against Deb’s protests, Robert rolled out of the driveway the next morning in a rented car he’d arranged in the city. “There’s just too much to do,” he told her, bleary-eyed.
He spent most of the drive on the phone, explaining the details of his ordeal to three different senior partners in the firm, all of whom concluded the calls with something to the effect of, “Unbelievable. Thank God Martin was able to clear it up for you right away… now you just focus on Tokyo.”
He did. He found the folders Sophie had organized lying on his desk and a moment later was greeted by his new assistant, an eager woman of thirty-five or so whose wide smile didn’t alter even as she spoke. He did his best to bring her up to speed to make use of her and then sent her out to Sophie’s old desk, which had been cleared by security before he’d arrived.
He ate lunch with a half-dozen other members of the team. It was a rich, languorous meal, full of bluster and confidence. They dreamed in short phrases and long words about sixty million dollars hanging in the near future like a shimmering pleasure dome.
After returning to the office, they worked through the afternoon and evening in committee until one of the senior partners appeared and, waving his hand like a magnanimous bishop, gave them his blessing to call it a night.
When Robert brought the rental into the driveway, there was already a car there and two figures talking with his wife beside the front door.
As he climbed out, she looked to him in the dim light with a curious blend of despair and horror.
The detectives turned–they were new, not people he’d met the night before–and greeted him.
“We located your car, Mr. Blancstone.”
“Really? That’s great. Did you find who stole it?”
“No. It didn’t really appear to be stolen at all. It has some superficial damage to one fender, but that appears to be a paint scrape from another vehicle.”
“It’s been parked in Queens for the last forty-eight hours, but it is securely locked.”
“Were you in the city Sunday night, sir?”
“Can we ask where you were that night?”
“Here, at home,” he made a feeble gesture toward his wife, but she said nothing.
“Your wife says she and the children went to bed by nine o’clock. What did you do after your family went to sleep, Mr. Blancstone?”
“There are some empty liquor bottles visible inside the cabin of the automobile, sir. Could it be that you don’t remember because you were drinking too heavily?”
“Can you account for–”
“I’ve had about enough of this. My time was spent reviewing projections and interest reports all night. I don’t have time to go on some drunken rampage, thank you very much! I’m going to have words with your superior. My car is stolen and you come here with recriminations against me!”
He continued shouting until the two officers sheepishly apologized. Debra wilted by the door, saying nothing.
He demanded the address where he could find his car, which they provided, and then opened the door.
Startled, Debra shuffled inside. He followed her and slammed the door without saying anything more to the officers.
“Jesus,” he gasped once inside.
“What is going on, Robert?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you’ve been accused of two crimes in a week. And rape?”
“Debra, you’re acting like I did something wrong.”
“Keep your voice down,” she hissed. “Were you having an affair with that woman?”
“What? She’s crazy. She’s got some sort of personal problems. Didn’t Martin explain all that to you on the phone?”
“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, Robert.”
“What? How the hell can you say that?”
“Were you having an affair with her?”
“I never touched her. How can you ask me that?”
“I’m just confused by all this. I just want you to tell me that you aren’t getting mixed up in anything that’s going to endanger our family,” she said, dropping her head and rubbing her brow. “Can you tell me that?”
“Of course I’m not,” he said, storming past her. “Jesus,” he said again.
She went to sleep early after bathing the boys. He made do with what food he could scavenge in the kitchen and ate it alone at the breakfast table with the TV rumbling barely audible in the corner of the room.
He thought about Deb’s eyes–her recriminating, doubtful eyes–staring at him as though he had done something wrong, as if he was responsible.
He’d seldom felt so angry at her and he sat very still at the table, staring at the TV screen without understanding what was happening on it before the anger subsided enough for him to think about going to bed.
When he finally felt ready, he took a bottle of Scotch from the bar and poured himself a drink, then another to steady his nerves.
After another hour of sitting in silence, he climbed the stairs to the bedroom. Deb was a pulsing mound in bed, the sheet rising in a steady, tidal beat with her breath.
He brushed his teeth, went to the toilet, and then dropped his clothes in a pile on the bathroom floor. He slipped into bed wearing only his boxer shorts and fell almost immediately into a deep sleep.
He woke groggily without the alarm having rung. The clock read 6:04.
Deb was already up, though he heard no stirrings through the open bedroom door.
He called out to her as he stretched his arms going through the jamb.
She didn’t call back.
The bathroom between the boys’ rooms was open.
He stepped closer to it and saw that the light through the window was catching something slick and wet on the tiles.
One more step and he saw the ends of five little toes at the edge of the slick, red spot.
Both were there, face down on the tile.
Deep gashes had gone black on their backs.
They were absolutely still.
He launched, without thinking of calling the authorities with the phone beside the bed, to the stairs and sprinted through the open spaces downstairs.
He found her in the kitchen.
The cuts were more severe. Whole parts of her were hanging to the body by only sinewy lines of tissue and gossamer sheets of skin.
The house was still and calm all around him.
He stumbled backward through the kitchen door and when his back met the wall, he stopped, slid to the ground where dawn entered the house through the crystal in the door and rested there, just in sight of the pool of blood around Deb’s body.
His hands shook. For a long time that was all that happened, all that he felt. The shaking of his hands beside his knees.
Then another feeling.
The slow, steady sensation of pressure, of one being submerged, not in water, but in something thicker, deeper.
He was then sure that he had done it. Though when he looked in the steady yellow glow of sunlight he saw his hands were clean, immaculate even.
Still he knew that it had to be him. Finally. Who else could it have been?