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He walked through the door of his subject’s apartment. Into his portable voice recorder, he made note of his first impressions.
“An ordinary apartment.” He held the recorder close to his mouth with one hand, while his other hand gestured about the room as if his image, not just his voice, was being recorded.
“Dark drapes, held up with roofing nails and duct tape, cover the large south-facing window. It seems the main room is all-purpose. It’s a kitchen, a living room and a sleeping area.”
Her bed, in the middle of the room where an oriental rug would have been in a well-decorated apartment, was cluttered with household objects. There was a hairbrush, a spatula, undergarments, and a vase from which water and mouldy flowers spilled onto the linens. Scratches, they looked like drag marks, led from the bedroom to the bed. They were etched into the laminate wood floor as if the bed had been recently moved to its new position.
From the messenger bag slung across his body, he produced a digital camera. He photographed the window and the bed – the two pieces that indicated a disrupted routine. He thought they might be hints as to what occurred in his subject’s life, and mind, up until the day of her death.
If she began to sleep out here, he thought, for what purpose did she use the single bedroom? He walked toward his subject’s bedroom and turned the doorknob, ignoring the stolen hotel sign that clearly read, “Do Not Disturb.” He didn’t think she’d mind.
The door opened halfway without incident. Then it stuck, apparently snagging on an object left discarded on the floor. Curious, he walked around the half-jammed door and bent at the waist to examine exactly what it had hit. The object was a leather-bound journal, the front of which was inscribed with her name in block capitals. He spread its pages and read:
I see movement. Through the lens of the camera hidden in their room, I see their movement.
Startled by the phrase, he looked up from the page to connect her words to his setting. Since it was the notebook that first caught his attention when he had entered the room, he hadn’t noticed the room’s east wall, which was so covered with monitors it looked as if they were the theme of a wallpaper design. Each black monitor was labelled with a brightly coloured sticky note; on each was written a name and an address. Her organization surprised him. From the upsetting sentences he had read in her journal, he would have said she was probably deranged and thus, he supposed, disorganized. This was only assumed because he was used to dealing with ordinary people.
He read on, trying to focus on his task – finding a witness to interview for the article.
Now, I see hands. If this were a romance, these hands would be “roving.” But this is not a romance. The Monroes are not a lights-on couple. Their hands, as they did most nights before this night, only turn out the light. Some nights he would extend a hand across her body and touch her shoulder as an invitation. Most nights, though, they are barely a couple at all.
Perhaps it was the fact that tracking down the Monroes did not require much work. After reading about them in her journal, he had simply grabbed the blue sticky note on which was written their name and address and travelled by public bus to their home, a narrow townhouse just two blocks away. Generally, he didn’t mind disturbing peoples’ lives for a story. He figured that, to even find a story, he would have to bother someone. Besides, every great man has his enemies. This case, however, bothered him slightly.
He had not had time to prepare many questions for the Monroes to answer about the girl. This turned out to not be much of a problem since the pair had a lot to say on the subject.
Mr. Franklin Monroe was a man of medium build with the attitude of someone much larger. His ear-length, wavy hair and PT Cruiser were all that remained of the hippie life he had left long ago. He was business-like until the purpose for the meeting became clear. When it did, he was very open about his annoyance with the subject, considering that the girl about whom he was speaking had been murdered less than a fortnight before.
“She really was a terrible girl, wasn’t she Harriet?” he said, turning to his large wife seated next to him on the monotonous chesterfield. She nodded, but remained tight-lipped.
Mr Monroe continued, “Every week she came to our condominium complex to cut the grass. She never smiled or even looked anything but angry or bored. Up until about a month ago, she was harmless in her teenaged misery. But since, she had become a bit nuts. She began to drive the lawn tracker over anything in her path. She would plough over garden gnomes and newspapers. She didn’t care at all, it seemed.
One afternoon, she even walked right into Joan and Arthur’s house. The little snoop didn’t even apologize for the intrusion, although after that she never returned to the complex. About a week later, Joan’s computer started acting up. When she took it to the store to get it fixed, the computer guy told her someone had tampered with it – they had planted a virus that had permanently activated the web cam. Spooky, eh?”
He half-smiled at his joke, sighed and took a sip of coffee before continuing in a quieter tone. “Her life was sad, probably. She probably became stuck in the drug world and didn’t know how to get out. That’s probably how she got a hold of that knife. All of us in the neighbourhood suspect she was the one who cut up that city truck.”
That night, I felt protected. Holding that knife was a similar feeling to carrying the small utility tool knife I always took camping as a child.
“Just in case,” my parents had said.
Although cutting into the leather and stabbing through the glass felt similar to slicing up food on a camping trip, it was the initiation into the real – criminal – world that was my focus. That night, I became legitimate.
“It was probably her who killed that unfortunate man from the other neighbourhood, too. He was a good man. He did nothing to deserve that fate.”
I remember carving my knife into his face. One could argue it was an unnecessary act of violence, but, for me, it was necessary. I needed to know I was more than just good, more than just a hardworking citizen. I needed to know if I could survive in another, unhappier, world.
“She probably just needed some help, you know? Like the Beatles said, she probably just needed some love.” Mr Monroe wiped his face with the kerchief he had just pulled from his breast pocket. His wife, Harriet, patted his forearm with her left hand. Barely noticeably, his body leaned away from her touch the way the like poles of two magnets repel each other.
The widow, a lawyer named Michaela, has entered her kitchen, which she treats like a study. Every night, she enters, she drops her keys, she changes into her lounging clothes (which, I have learned, have their own labelled shelf in her walk-in closet) and she sets up her laptop. There, at her kitchen table, she researches. Frankly, it isn’t that practice that interests me. What I enjoy is listening to her rehearse.
This over achiever is a marvellous phenomenon. She is battered, but she lives alone. She is so focused on avoiding mental stress, which would interfere with her career, that she replaces worry with physical pressure, which can be more easily overcome. If she makes a mistake when rehearsing, she physically punishes herself. Usually, she uses her fist to pound her other hand or her arm.
I wonder if she learned that trick in law school, maybe from those who also taught her the magic of Ritalin.
The journalist met with Michaela after her regular workday. He had called the number associated with the address under her name on the sticky note from his subject’s apartment and had set up the meeting. She was tense when she arrived. And she was more occupied with the legalities of the meeting than its content.
“This statement is anonymous, correct? I cannot have anyone knowing I said this, okay? You cannot publish my name and you cannot contact the authorities. I am only an informant, a source.”
He nodded and asked her if he could, at least, quote her.
“Yes, you can publish my words. Just, under no circumstances, can you publish my name.”
He told her she had his word that he would not disregard her wishes. Being good to informants is just good journalism, he explained.
“Your word is definitely not good enough, so I have written up a small legal document. Sign here.”
He signed the document, thinking that she must be an excellent lawyer because she was very good at acting distant. He wondered if she had been the same when she was with her husband. If she did, the poor man conceivably died of boredom.
She said, “I have consciousness issues. As in, I have trouble remaining conscious, awake. This is especially a problem when I work. As such, I am a firm believer in focus enhancing drugs. They got me through law school and helped me pass the bar. No one, save for my supplier and, maybe, my dead husband, knew that tiny secret.
Then, one afternoon, after a really successful court appearance, my coworkers and I went out for a few celebratory drinks. Somehow, and I honestly do not remember what happened (I wish I did), I woke up beside to a teenager – a female teenager! – the next morning. There is no way I slept with her without being far more drunk than I was when I left my coworkers, so I must have continued drinking much into the night.
Anyway, that morning I was extremely hung over and desperately needed an ibuprofen from my medicine cabinet. The teenager, whom I now suspect was straighter than the lines on a flat, prairie road, got the pills for me. She must have come across my work drugs while she was in there, because, when she came out of the washroom, she was much more serious than before. Also, I am sure her handbag was a little heavier than before.
I was too sick to care that she had stolen my entire stash and learned the secret that could jeopardize my licence to practice law. The next week, to make up for my loss, I just ordered twice my regular dose and prayed she’d stay silent.”
I am sitting in my viewing room, which I created to watch them. I like to observe their privacy and look into their identity. People, for the record, are very much the same person alone as they are in public view. Although I once thought they were fascinating, people are all, to me, now rather boring. They all worry. They all judge. And most of them are afraid.
For instance, Randy Turner is afraid his children don’t love him. He thinks they prefer their baby-sitter, Amanda, a notion that is most likely true. It takes many years for children to recognize they love their parents more than their grade school teachers.
When he is alone in his home, Randy mutters about his worries as he passes by his children’s rooms. This is often caught on the “nanny cam” he hid in the hallway. He bought it from his old baby-sitter in the hopes that somewhere within the film, there would be an excuse to let Amanda go. He has yet to find one.
However, now that his wife is gone, he thinks he can bring back the old baby-sitter, whom he much preferred to the new nanny.
Randy Turner spoke of the subject as if she were the best thing that ever happened to him.
“She was kind. She was generous. She worked hard and volunteered her time to her community. Her death is a tragedy.”
He breathed deeply like an amateur circus performer about to perform a tightrope walk in front of an audience for the first time.
“It was as if she was made for my family and me. She understood that she was the secondary caregiver. She didn’t love the kids so much they forgot about their parents.
It wasn’t just her manner with the children that I loved so much. Now that my wife has left, I can say this. I guess you could say that I just loved her. She really was beautiful.
I suppose she never noticed my interest. If she did, she sure kept quiet about it. In the end, they both left. My wife made the nanny leave and then, because of the nanny, my wife left. It’s just the kids and me now. God knows how hard that is.”
His story about the subject was to be published in the next Sunday’s newspaper. The Sunday newspaper didn’t really ever have much to offer but gossip, he thought. But, as long as he received his paycheck, he was fine with writing glorified obituaries of dead criminals. From the Internet bloggers who write about food to the journalists reporting from war zones, he figured there was little honour in sensational journalism.
As he reread his notes and listened again to the recordings from his meetings with the witnesses to her life, he wondered who actually killed this troubled girl.
He ended her story with the line, “She saw everything, but missed the gun.”