Erika glanced over her shoulder at Arabella, then laid her glasses on the desk. "What is happening at the beach?" she asked me. "I was busy at work and did not right away notice the disturbance." She glanced out the office window. "But now I can see police trucks, yet Miss Arabella is here." My mouth opened, but I couldn't find the words. "Why?" she said, eyebrows scrunched.
Death notices are one of the most difficult tasks a cop must perform, and no one ever gets comfortable with them. Especially when delivered to a friend or relative.
Tough and emotionally draining, they must be done with as much tact and compassion as possible. And caution. I dreaded the next-of- kin's reaction most of all; impossible to know their response. I'll never forget the time I held a grieving mother whose son had died in a car accident. I squeezed her tight with one arm while keeping a firm grip on my weapon so she couldn't grab it.
Retirement should've meant I had delivered my last death notice. Guess not.
I walked to Erika's desk and sat on the edge, putting us at eye-level with each other. A squeaky fan in the corner oscillated back and forth, pushing warm, moist Caribbean air across the room, providing little cooling effect and no comfort.
With a deep breath, I said, "I have some bad news."
Her lower lip quivered. "What about him?" She looked over my shoulder, out the window at the beach, then down to a framed picture of Rulio on her desk. The breeze blew through the office. "Tell me!"
Arabella sat forward, elbows resting on her thighs. We made eye contact and she shook her head.
What could I say? Rulio had been missing for ten days. How could I explain to Erika that a piece of her nephew had washed ashore and was laying across the street in the sand?
The manual didn't cover this. Her relationship with Rulio was more than aunt and nephew. Much more. Erika had raised him since he was a toddler, his parents having died in a car accident. Whereas she played the role of big sister to me, she had always been mother to Rulio.
And always would be.
I would much rather have been sitting on my deck playing banjo, listening to the sea waves caress the shore, a cold one within arm's reach. But this had to be done. She needed to hear it from someone who cared.
My chest tightened.
I took her hand. "Part of him...Part of Rulio—"
She jerked away, clenching her hands into fists. "What do you mean 'part of him'?"
My eyes watered, knowing what this would do to her. "Rulio's leg washed ashore."
She made a whining sound and her face flushed. "What? No, you are wrong." Tears streamed down her cheeks. "I need to go there." She
tried to walk around me and make for the door, but I stepped up and wrapped her in a hug.
"No, you don't," I said. "There's nothing there for you to see or do." She tried to resist and squirm out of my grasp, so I squeezed tighter. "Nothing for you to do."
"Please, please..." She buried her face in my chest and sobbed.
I knew she needed to get this out, and nothing I could say would help. I had more experience with premature death than either she or Arabella, so I held Erika tight and let her cry. Her tears soaked my T-shirt, mixing with sweat and some not-yet-dried seawater. The cries turned to moans as her entire body spasmed several times. I held her tighter, concerned her legs might give out and she'd collapse.
I fought the urge to break down myself. Arabella wiped her own tears.
After a few moments, Erika's emotions drained, she relaxed, and I helped her into the chair. She took the picture of Rulio from her desk and held it close to her body.
Living on Bonaire all her life, she had acclimated to the heat. Seldom had I ever seen her sweat. But now, perspiration seeped through her shirt and drenched her hair and face. Arabella brought over a stack of fast-food napkins from my desk and placed them in front of Erika. She took one and wiped her eyes, already red and bloodshot, then her forehead and face. Her breathing ragged, she stared at the floor, still clutching Rulio's picture.
"I must ask what happened?" she said.
I looked at Arabella. She shrugged, which I took as a pass back to me. "No way to know right now," I told Erika, my voice low and soft.
"There'll need to be an investigation."
"You will find out how this happened?" She raised her head, piercing me with her bloodshot eyes. "You will?"
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the paperback edition.
Monday, April 3rd, we begin the book Moorewood Family Rules by HelenKay Dimon.