Stepping onto the porch, I tipped an imaginary hat to the bereft neighbor standing with Officer Carter, the first on the scene. “Mrs. Claire Whitstine,” I said. “I’m Detective West. Can you tell me what happened?”
“Well, I live across the street,” she waved her hand absently in the direction of her house, then wrapped her arms around herself. “I was coming to check on Dana, I haven’t seen her in three days.” Her eyes glazed over, and she stared at nothing. “I knocked before going in. I called out, but she didn’t answer. When I got to the bedroom at the end of the hall, I saw her lying in bed. So beautiful, so peaceful.” A few more tears escaped.
“Claire, I know this is difficult,” I said, “but I just have a few more questions. Okay?”
“Do you always let yourself into Dana’s house?”
Her brow furrowed. “She’s my best friend,” she said.
Her mind drifted to a happier place, a wistful smile gracing her lips. “When we bought our houses, we made spare keys. Dana used to make breakfast at my house on Monday mornings while I showered.”
“Thank you, Miss Whitstine,” I said. “Why don’t you go on home and rest. If I have any more questions, I’ll contact you.”
Her lips were still trembling, her eyes remained unfocused. Gazing at thin air she nodded, then crossed the street.
I followed Carter into the house and down the hall, past pictures of a smiling Dana Townsend with friends and family, and into her bedroom. Pictures of her hugging a gray haired woman with features similar to her own adorned the walls. On her dresser, a picture of her grinning in the midst of a circle of laughing, costumed children, her own face painted to match. Carter waited at the door while I examined the scene. On the bedside table, I found the note that Claire had missed.
Your smile is brighter than the sun, but not bright enough to banish the darkness within me. Your laughter is sweeter than any orchestra of angels, yet not enough to lift the weight that crushes my heart. I’m sure that wherever I go from here, I’ll miss you terribly.
I Love You Always,
I stared at her serene corpse. Aside from my trembling hands and shaky breathing, I couldn’t move. The similarity between this scene and my wife’s suicide, down to the handwriting on that final letter, nearly brought me to my knees.
Carter, still waiting at the door, cleared his throat. “Detective West, you want me to call the Medical Examiner?”