The House Across the Street
by Roy Dorman
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
There was a light drizzle Wednesday morning and most in the large group of people gathered around the gravesite after the funeral were dressed in raincoats and had umbrellas. It was a scene out of countless movie funerals and it made Andy feel even more like a character in a murder plot.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Andy said to Susan’s husband as people were heading back to their cars.
“Oh, thank you very much. I’m Gary Kelly, Susan’s husband; it was good of you to come. I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’ve met. Did you work with Susan?”
“No,” said Andy, “I live across the street from a house that she was showing, and we mainly nodded and waved.”
Gary stopped and stared at Andy. “It isn’t the house on West Jackson Street, is it?”
“Why, yes it is,” said Andy. “I saw that Susan must have made the sale; new people moved in the day... the day after she died.”
“Are you the creep who was harassing her every time she came over there with a buyer? You called her at home, too, didn’t you? She told me it wasn’t you, but I knew it was.”
“Wait, wait,” Andy stammered. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I liked Susan. Really, I did.”
“You’re a stalker!” Gary yelled in Andy’s face. “I wanted to call the police, but Susan wouldn’t let me. I told her I’d come with her to the showings, but she said she could handle it. I am going to tell the police about you now. They might as well start their investigation with you.”
Susan’s husband then continued to his car and left Andy standing there in the rain. The remaining funeral goers had looked at him like he was some kind of bug.
* * *
That afternoon Andy saw an unmarked squad car pull up in front of the house across the street. He took his place in front of the picture window and watched as what appeared to be two plainclothes detectives, a man and a woman, walked up to the front door. He chided himself for not having thought to put the new owners on his mental list of possible killers. He wished he could hear what the police were asking, but had to be content with just watching from his window.
* * *
“Hello, folks, I’m Detective Harris and this is my partner, Detective Michaels,” said the female detective, showing her badge. A short, elderly man had answered the door and his wife was on tiptoe looking over his shoulder.
“Good afternoon, detectives; I’m Arnold Hastings and this is my wife, Myrna. Is there some sort of problem?”
“Well, Mr. Hastings,” said Detective Harris, “you may have heard that the real estate agent who sold you this house was killed by a hit-and-run driver last Friday night. We’re in the beginning stages of the investigation and are checking with anybody who had contact with Susan Kelly during the last week of her life. If you have a car, would you mind if we took a look at it?”
“Aren’t ya supposed to have a warrant for somethin’ like that?” Arnold asked.
“Well, we could get a warrant, if you insist, but we’re just doing some routine investigative work right now and would appreciate your cooperation,” said Detective Michaels.
“Oh, show ’em the car, Arnie, there’s nothin’ the matter with it,” said Myrna, gently pushing on her husband’s shoulder.
“Okay, I suppose it’s all right; I’ll back it out of the garage for ya,” Arnold mumbled as he came out of the house and walked to the garage. He opened the garage door with the key fob and backed the car out onto the driveway.
The car was a fairly new Toyota Prius. The detectives went to the front of the car and looked it over closely. Detective Michaels got down on his stomach and examined the undercarriage.
“Well, Mr. and Mrs. Hastings, thanks for your cooperation. Your car looks fine,” said Detective Harris.
“I’ll tell ya who ya should talk to about that accident,” said Myrna. “It’s that weird guy who lives across the street. Look at him; he’s been watchin’ us from his front window this whole time. He bothered that poor real estate agent somethin’ terrible. When she showed us the house, it was twice she showed it to us, both times he yelled suggestive remarks at her from across the street.
“She apologized and said that he did that a lot. She thought that he might be sick but felt he was harmless as he always stayed close to his house. We almost didn’t buy this house because we’d be livin’ across from him.”
“You’ll want to look at his car too,” said Arnold. “This morning he came back from somewhere and stood in the rain lookin’ at the front of it for must’ve been five minutes. More than odd, he is. Crazy as a peach orchard boar.”
The detectives looked over at Andy’s house and saw him step quickly behind the curtains.
“Actually, Mr. Benson is our next stop, folks,” said Detective Michaels.
“That’s all we have here for now,” said Detective Harris. “We want to thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Hastings; we do appreciate your input.”
* * *
Andy had been shocked when he saw the old man come to the door. What had happened to the tall, buff guy who had removed the “HOUSE FOR SALE” sign? His eyes had strayed to the lawn, and there it was: the sign was back on the lawn and it had a “SOLD” sticker pasted on it. His confusion had increased when he saw the old man back a new blue compact car out of the garage.
He had stepped behind the drapes when he saw all four of them look in his direction. And now he watched in horror as the two detectives started across the street straight toward his house. He closed the drapes and sat down on the couch whimpering.
The door bell rang, but Andy just stayed on the couch. When it rang again, he knew he would have to get up and talk to them.
Before he could get to the door, a voice called out, “Mr. Benson? It’s the police. We have some questions for you. Please open the door.”
Andy opened the door a crack and peered out at the two detectives on his front stoop. “Yes,” he said with a trembling smile.
“Mr. Benson, we’re Detectives Harris and Michaels,” said Detective Harris. “We’d like to ask you a few questions about the hit-and-run accident that took the life of Susan Kelly last Friday night. May we come in?”
“No, I don’t think so,” said Andy. “We can talk right here.”
A garbagey smell was drifting out from the hallway, and the detectives exchanged a look. They probably imagined the inside of the house was as chaotic as Andy Benson’s mind seemed to be.
“Okay, Mr. Benson, we’d just like to know where you were about eight o’clock last Friday night, and we’d also like to have a look at your car,” said Detective Michaels.
“I was right here on Friday night. I haven’t been feeling well lately and have been staying home most of the time. I’m a writer and work from—”
“Can anybody confirm that you were here all of Friday night?” asked Detective Harris.
“No, since my wife went back to Iowa, I live here alone.”
“Let’s go have a look at your car, Mr. Benson. Could you back it out of the garage and park it in the driveway, please?” said Detective Michaels.
Earlier, the detectives had decided that the matter-of-fact approach might work with Andy, and it did. Andy closed the living room door and went out into the garage through the kitchen without even asking about a warrant.
The detectives had obtained a warrant based on Gary Kelly’s information, but decided to hold it back until they met with some resistance on Andy’s part. Sometimes, there was an unexpected bonus if they were less officious with the person they were interviewing.
The garage door came up and Andy backed the car out onto the driveway. The detectives walked immediately to the front of the car and their usual poker faces registered surprise. One headlight was broken and a piece of the grill was missing.
“I just noticed that this morning; I don’t know how it happened,” said Andy, getting out of the car.
Detective Harris took a turn at examining the undercarriage. “Nothing under there that I can see,” she said to Detective Michaels. “But we better have the lab guys take a look at it right here. I’ll call ’em.”
She walked to their car squad car and sat down in the driver’s seat. Andy watched intently as she talked to someone on the radio.
“We’re going to take you downtown for some questioning, Mr. Benson,” said Detective Michaels. “You can close up the garage and lock your front door.”
Andy continued to stare at Detective Harris. A vision came into his mind of Detective Harris and him walking on a deserted beach. “I want to confess,” said Andy. “I did it. I killed Susan.”
“You have the right to remain silent—”
“No, no, I want to confess to everything. I waive my rights. But could I confess to Detective Harris? I think that she and I may have already made a connection. Is she married?”
“Get in the car, Benson. No more talking until we get to the station.”
* * *
“You’ve been so quiet the last couple of days; is everything okay, dear? Did I get everything you needed from the house last weekend?”
“Yeah, Mom,” said Jenny. “Thanks for going there and getting it; I really didn’t want to have to deal with him again. There wasn’t that much left, but I wanted to be shut of the whole situation.”
“Was it really as awful as you say?” asked her mother.
“Worse. I’ll probably never be able to tell you all of what happened in those last few months. I think that he was starting to make me as crazy as he was. Thanks for being there for me all those times when I called to vent about it.”
“But now all that’s left is the divorce, right? You tried to fix things with Andy, but he just wasn’t fixable. That was it, right? He and that flirty real-estate hussy.”
“What? What do you mean, Mom? That real estate agent never did anything to lead Andy on; she tried her best to ignore him. He just became obsessed with her. It wasn’t her fault at all. Why are you smiling at me like that? You’re scaring me.”
“Oh, I talked to Andy and he told me all about it. He was so drunk and confused that he thought that I was you. Can you believe it? I encouraged him in that thought and got an earful. Seems they were having sex every time she came by to show the house across the street. Even before you left him.
“He cried like a baby and said he wanted to confess everything. Confession’s good for the soul, right? I encouraged that thought too, but I could only stand it for a few minutes. Then I gathered your things and took care of something else that needed taking care of. Maybe you couldn’t fix him, but I fixed him. I fixed the both of them.”
* * *
Susan Kelly’s death and the follow-up investigation relating to it did not make the papers in Jenny’s hometown in rural Iowa. However, a few days later, Jenny received an e-mail from a co-worker she’d been friendly with at her previous employer. There were a couple of links in the e-mail to recent news stories regarding Susan Kelly’s death and Andy Benson’s possible involvement in it.
Jenny sent an e-mail reply thanking the co-worker for the e-mail and for her friendship at work. But Jenny never e-mailed her again.
Martha already had an eye on Ronald Jimson, one of the assistant managers at the local grocery. Ronald and Jenny have not had a date yet, but Jenny always seemed to have a minute for Ronald when Martha and she went shopping.
Martha most certainly would not let things get as out of control as they had with with Andy Benson.
Copyright © 2017 by Roy Dorman