Book: Ask the Right Question

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Miller and I rode together in the back of one unmarked car. The other followed us. We pulled up in tandem in front of the Crystal house. If Chivian was there, his car was not out front. It probably didn’t matter. Whatever Crystal had told him about our afternoon session, they couldn’t be expecting this.

As we got out I waved the second car back along Jefferson Boulevard, to get it more out of sight. They were there in case someone left the house by car. The other two cops were to post outside, front and back. Only Miller would come in with me. I wanted to give Leander Crystal as much benefit of doubt as possible. But also to protect Miller in case Crystal didn’t deserve such benefits.

“If anybody does come out,” I warned the two cops to be posted at front and back, “warn them, identify yourself, fire a warning shot, but do not, repeat, do not shoot them.”

They looked at Miller. He nodded. “Unless they are threatening your life.” He checked the load in his gun. The patrolmen did the same. Then they walked to their positions.

After giving them a little time Miller and I walked silently across the lawn to the front door.

It was about eight thirty, dark. Lights shone upstairs and downstairs to our right. Muted lights showed elsewhere.

I felt the kind of majesty that a big house can have, especially when you are walking across the lawn as if you owned it. The Crystal Palace.

Leander Crystal answered the door. He stood for a moment taking in the fact that there were two of us. Then he functioned. “Come in.” He led us toward the living room. Just as well. It was the only place in the house with which I felt any familiarity, felt comfortable.

The comfort did not last. Seated in the living room was Henry Chivian, MD. He got up as we came in. He grinned. He couldn’t have been there long or he wouldn’t have been grinning from what Leander told him I knew. Or would he?

“Where is everybody?” I asked as we sat down. Us two facing them two. Leander said, “Fleur and Eloise are upstairs. What can I do for you? And who is this gentleman?”

“This is Jerry Miller. He is a friend of mine and he is also a sergeant of police.”

“Police!” He stood up. I forgave him that. Anyone would be nervous on a day his deceptions of sixteen years had been coming down around his ears. What I had to establish was just how nervous he was.

“Sit down, Mr. Crystal.” I used my fatherly voice. He sat down. Thankfully, Chivian had ceased to smile. I wanted to jump over the table between us and pull off his wig.

Leander did the talking for their side.

“I don’t understand, Samson. This afternoon—” He stopped himself. “What does he know?”

I talked for our side. I spoke quietly, concentrating on his face. “He knows everything that you told me this afternoon.”

He just sat and shook his head. “I don’t understand. I thought we had an arrangement.” Chivian clearly didn’t know anything. He was relaxed, grinning again.

“Things aren’t quite what they were this afternoon.” Still quietly. “I’ve found out about Annie.”

He looked at me. “What about Annie?” Chivian’s grin fell like a bomb. He lurched forward to the edge of the couch.

“I’ve found her body.”

“Her body!” said Crystal. “Where? When? When was she …?”

I’m not infallible, but it was good enough for me.

“In New York,” I said. “Central Park.”

“But when? I don’t understand what this has to do with …?” And then I believe a wave of understanding broke inside his head. It showed in his eyes. I helped it.

I said, “Sixteen years ago. They found her November twenty-third.”

“Oh, my God,” he said. His head was down. In his hands.

It must have been then that I began to hear a high-pitched laugh begin. It was low in volume to begin with. I didn’t quite notice it at the time. It’s just on recollection that I have figured out when it began.

“Oh, my God,” he repeated. “No!” I was concentrating on Crystal. I remember wondering if he was crying, or what. I sensed tension coming into his body. And it was then that I consciously realized the sound was a laugh.

It was hideous and growing and high-pitched. I call it a laugh because my vocabulary isn’t all that good. But it wasn’t a scream. It was getting louder. For a few instants I couldn’t find the direction. I looked at Chivian but he was looking around, too. I guess I was convinced that it was coming from Crystal. But a second after I became conscious of the sound and of Crystal’s tensing, it all began to happen.

His head came up and I had a moment to realize that his mouth was closed and his eyes were somehow not involved in a noise like that.

It was rising and loud and there was a bursting sort of sound. Like through a door.

Like behind me.

I have a visual memory of Leander Crystal diving toward my right. Somehow stronger than diving. Hurling himself.

Then all I remember is her being on me. Turning me or my turning in reaction to her. But somehow turning so I saw three or four flashes.

They say that she got me six times and that must have been what the flashes were.

They call knives cold and metallic but all I felt was a hot poker ripping into my right side. And ripping again. And again.

I have a faint notion of a red moment, of red passing before my eyes, but I wouldn’t swear to it. It might have been my blood. They say there was a lot of it. Or her hair.

I don’t know. All I know is that at that moment I decided to lie down and go to sleep.

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