Home > The Second Husband

The Second Husband
Author: Kate White

 

1


Then

THE SOUND WOKE HER, JARRING HER FROM AN EDGY dream.

Had it come from outdoors, Emma wondered, staring into the darkness—or from inside the house? Maybe the noise had only happened in her dream.

But a few seconds later, as she lay alert in the twisted sheets, it sounded again, shooting up the stairs and carrying down the corridor outside her bedroom. It was the doorbell, she realized. The vibrations clung to the air like those from a tuning fork.

She rolled onto her side and squinted at the digital clock on the bedside table.

1:47 a.m.

Her heart pitched forward. It was the middle of the night, and someone was at her front door.

Could it be a prank? She pictured the teenagers who sometimes congregated on the front lawn of a house down the street: sullen, private-school types, oozing with an urge to cause trouble.

After kicking off the duvet, she jabbed her arms into the sleeves of a terry cloth robe and grabbed her phone before hurrying barefoot to one of the small spare bedrooms at the front of the house.

At first glance through the window, the street below appeared deserted. And then she spotted the tail end of a dark car out front. The rest of it was blocked from view by the pitch of their roof.

No, not sullen teenagers then. Returning to the hall, she flicked on a light and descended the stairs with her heart in her throat, grasping the rail the whole way down.

In the front hall, she saw through one of the narrow windows on either side of the door that there were actually two cars parked in front of the house: the dark one—and a local police cruiser. Her stomach dropped. The police didn’t show at your house at this hour because you’d been recorded running a red light earlier in the day.

She inched closer to the window and discovered three people standing on the wide stoop in the glow of the overhead light: a tall, burly man in a tan overcoat, a younger one in a police uniform, and a woman in a black puffer jacket.

The older man noticed her through the window. “Mrs. Rand?” he called out, cold air escaping from his mouth in ghostlike puffs.

Emma went to unlock the door and then, flustered, reminded herself of the intercom. She swiped the hair out of her eyes and pressed the button. “Yes?”

“I’m Detective Chuck Lennox, from the New York City Police Department. Can we please come in and speak with you?”

“What’s this about?” she asked, barely able to hear herself over the whooshing in her ears.

“Ma’am, we’d prefer to explain inside.”

“I—I need to see some ID.”

“Of course. I’m going to put it up against the glass, all right?”

She returned to the window and read the identification card he’d pressed against the pane. The ID looked legit enough, with its bright blue and yellow lettering, not that she was any expert.

Emma deactivated the security alarm and tightened the belt on her robe, then ushered in the three strangers along with a blast of frigid March air.

As they stood in her hall, Lennox solemnly introduced Emma to the woman, Detective Martinez, a small brunette who couldn’t be much older than thirty-five and was wearing the kind of comfort pumps the ads show women shooting basketballs in. Then he gave her the name of the patrol cop, which she didn’t catch, though his uniform indicated he was from their town, Madison, New Jersey. Emma let herself fixate on the details because this way she didn’t have to focus on the enormity of what must be coming next. Why else would they be here in the middle of the night?

“Please, what’s going on?” she asked.

“You’re Emma Rand?”

“My name’s Emma Hawke, but Derrick Rand is my husband. What’s the matter?”

Lennox’s eyes flicked toward the living room, which was bright with light. She’d left two lamps burning when she went up to bed, the way she always did when she was going to be home alone overnight.

“It would be best if we could sit down,” Lennox said. “Do you mind?”

“Uh, yeah, okay.”

As they moved to the living room, Emma fished through the pocket of her robe, found an elastic, and unsteadily tied her hair into a ponytail. She and the two detectives took seats, while the patrolman remained standing by the entrance to the hall, like a bouncer at the front door of a nightclub.

“Please,” Emma asked, nearly pleading this time. “What’s happened?”

“I’m very sorry to tell you this, Ms. Hawke,” Lennox said, “but it appears your husband was killed tonight in New York City.”

His words seemed to hover in the air like a drone at eye level, vibrating slightly.

“Killed?” she finally said. “How?”

“He was shot twice in the torso. The location was a small alley on Greene Street in SoHo. Probably between nine thirty and ten thirty. It looks like it might have been an attempted robbery, but we don’t know for certain yet.”

She stared at Lennox, at the long, thin mouth that cut across the lower half of his face like a slit in a piece of cloth.

“It . . . it can’t be him. Derrick’s in the city tonight but at a conference. He’s staying in Midtown.”

“Unfortunately, we’re fairly certain it was Mr. Rand. Can you please describe him for us?”

“Uh, about six feet tall, well built. Short brown hair . . . brown eyes.”

Lennox nodded grimly. “Though the victim’s wallet and phone were missing, we found a ticket in his pants pocket for a BMW parked in a nearby garage on Friday morning and registered in your husband’s name. There was also a small leather case with business cards in the other pocket.”

Reaching into his own pocket, Lennox withdrew a business card and leaned forward for Emma to take a look. It was Derrick’s.

“Oh my god.”

It was true then. Her thirty-seven-year-old husband was dead, was gone forever, was never going to come home from work, step into this room, and stretch his legs across the pale gray ottoman across from her. Ever again. She began to tremble, her arms and legs doing a crazy kind of twitch.

“Let’s get you some water,” Detective Martinez said gently. “Your kitchen is—?”

Emma flung an arm in the general direction. The detective was gone and back in less than a minute, and after offering Emma the glass, Martinez picked up a wool throw from the back of one of the armchairs and draped it around her shoulders.

It took both hands for Emma to grasp the glass, and she managed only a tiny sip from it before setting it down on the side table.

“Where is he now?” Emma asked, the shaking subsiding. “In—in the hospital? The ER?”

“He was declared dead at the scene, so he was taken directly to the city morgue,” Lennox said. “On First Avenue and Twenty-Sixth Street.”

Against her will, Emma saw it in her mind’s eye—Derrick lying in one of those steel drawers they show on crime shows, his body zipped into a long black bag. His flesh already starting to decay.

She gulped. “Do I need to go there? To identify him?”

“Not tonight.” Lennox unbuttoned his coat but didn’t remove it. “That can be done in the morning when you might be feeling a bit stronger. But I do have a few questions for now. You mentioned your husband was at a conference. Can you tell us the nature of the conference and where it was being held?”

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