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WARNING - adult content, not suitable for children
a short story by Mark Kolke
August 29 2011
“My name is Lydia Killey, and this is my story.”
That’s how I started.I began recording this story, expecting I might write a book. Maybe.
What would I call it?
Confessions of a home-wrecker?Or, how to get your partner killed in five easy lessons.
I’m not sure. Maybe it was just a lazy way to journal, easier to talk into a tape recorder than to type on the computer, or to write in a journal.My counselor advised me to journal, so this was it.
Most of all, I wanted to honor the fact that I have the opportunity to live, and if I’m lucky, to keep on living.
My mantra for five months has been a line for a Lucille Clifton poem "life has tried to kill me before and not succeeded".
I could wretch over why that bullet hit my partner Detective Ralph Dunken, instead of me.
He had so much to live for.
So did I.
We both did, but with him gone it is harder to see the value in my life, and the purpose in it, if there is such a thing.
But lately, since I’ve had my diagnosis, I’ve relived those moments every day.
And every night. Not that I wasn’t reliving them frequently as it was, but now more than ever. Why couldn’t it have been me who died in that alley, instead of my partner?
But that is behind me now – no expectation of high times here in High Point, no expectations, no destiny.
On the other hand, who is to know these things?
Nor, was this to be the low point of my career.
But, at least a pause – time to regroup, recoup my equilibrium after my times with Ralph in Norfolk.
There was no other way to continue. I couldn’t stay there. The scandal would have hung around my neck like an old horse collar.
There is no clock to this, of when you know – or when you must continue not knowing in hopes of one day finding answers.There is no clock ticking, but I so often feel like I am running out of time.
I was so prepared for a new chapter in my life – but completely unprepared for the medical results from the routine physical I took when I hired on here.It is too soon to tell – more tests are required, but it looks like I have the early stages of ovarian cancer.Treatment, Dr. Jan Kaiser tells me, can begin right away without affecting my work.Once further tests confirm the diagnosis she will have to advise the Chief’s office but for now at least, I am free to function on the job. I’m the new kid on the block.
She said, “Listen, Lydia, ovarian cancer is not a death sentence.Early diagnosis and prompt treatment gives us very encouraging survival rates. The progress in the science of this disease in recent years is remarkable. I’m referring you to an oncologist, Dr. Tim McCracken at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. You will be in great hands.”Her efforts to comfort me were appropriate I suppose, but I was more numbed than scared.After losing Ralph, this wasn’t such painful news.
Policing is a small world, so expecting stories of events in Norfolk not following me here – to the gossip mill on this force would be unrealistic. What I knew I could not handle any longer, were the stares and nosiness of neighbors and store clerks – of everyone really who came in contact with me in Norfolk and Smithfield.That’s what happens when you are featured in the newspapers every day for weeks on end.
Not mine especially, though I am as guilty as anyone from time to time, of that arrogant brand of it so often present in those of us who investigate and deduce, those of us who preserve and protect, those of us who put ourselves in harm’s way every day. Mostly we deal with domestic crap, traffic issues and petty crime.
We all, deeply, yearn for the big time, big case - the kind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie might have written, of clever mystery for Holmes or Poirot to solve.
The high priesthood, if you will, of police work – as if it was art for art’s sake, is that of finding the perfect solution to the near-perfect crime. But not likely, not here.
Learning a new town is like reading a new book by an author you love. The writing style and character types are familiar, but the setting is new – there are surprises around every corner for exploration and intrigue.
No better description fits my first few weeks here in High PointNorth Carolina. I was so relieved to get this job, to get out of the city and to get away from the baggage that my time with Ralph had left me. So much weight on my shoulders, I felt like a hunchback most days.
But the sky was clearer now, my first weeks of orientation to High Point were over. I was finally paired with Detective Jonas Kemp as my partner last week. This morning, I was called out on my first big case on this new turf.
Here, in the land of mahogany furniture and rare old rubs who claim to have worked in now defunct furniture factories all week and listened to John Coltrane at the WilliamPennHigh School on Friday nights.Not backwoods, but humble Quaker country rooted in generations of lumber, tobacco, textiles and furniture making. Not far from Winston-Salem and pioneer history steeped in mystery, witches and religion.
But, what is very long?
Two years? Twenty years? When one weathers loss, I would imagine one never recovers from, if recovering means somehow being the same as you were before.
It's not possible.
Five months is not very long.
There was no second guessing it, or rationalizing it into something else.It was simply over. Exposed, scandalized, irreparable twisted up loveliness, like no passion I’d ever read about – and nothing I’d experienced in my 38 years.
I know what I want to say. I'm just having trouble saying it. I guess I am trying to "move on". What choice do I have?
Am I articulating this in any way that is remotely understandable?
I have made this choice to go on. I don't want to spend what time I have left in an abyss of darkness or despair. That would serve no purpose, though I find myself there sometimes.
It wouldn't show that I loved him more because I can be incapacitated in a way that doesn't ever again allow me to feel joy again.
I’d taken a six week leave from the force, but staying on in Norfolk would have me seeing familiar faces and places every day, have me colliding with memories on every street corner.And, how could I work in the same building as Rachel.A partner and a widow are supposed to be one in the same person, but how does a partner like me go on working in the same building as Ralph’s widow?
Rachel and Ralph met at the academy. He went into detective work, and she worked the administrative liaison side from the Deputy Chief’s office.She worked on inter-agency relationships with Homeland Security, the FBI, Interpol and the Norfolk department’s relationship with NCIS, and other local and state forces in the area; her focus mostly on organized crime cases.I didn’t care that much, but always felt grateful that her job took her away often on business, especially to weekend conferences because it gave Ralph and me more opportunity for us time.
I couldn’t handle it any more.I needed a fresh start somewhere else where I could continue to grieve in peace, and get on with my life.
The scandal, Ralph’s death at the hand of a drug-dealer’s bullet, evidence of his infidelity with me that came out during his murderer’s trial, shame and ridicule I felt – to say nothing of how Rachel must have felt.
A small symptom of her pain was her name change. She had been Rachel Dunken-Mendenhall since the day they married 17 years before.During the trial, she reverted to using Mendenhall, her efforts I suppose to purge the grip of being scandalized by an unfaithful husband.The name thing wasn’t such a big deal any longer because her children, from her first marriage, always had the surname Baglio. Besides, they were grown now so it wasn’t like they had to explain themselves or their parent’s lives to classmates.
I had some time - off work, and time spent with a counselor – spent begging forgiveness from Rachel could not erase eight years as Ralph’s partner on the job, couldn’t erase the impossible love triangle we created.
I knew it wasn’t my fault; it was Ralph who was being unfaithful to her, not me.Everybody told me it wasn’t my fault, but how could I excuse myself? I let it happen. I could have said no, but it became such a natural progression from the closeness, the intimacy, of our working relationship.
Note to self: don’t let that happen, ever, again.
And how can I ever know that Ralph’s death that day couldn’t have been prevented if he’d not had two women in his life, me and his wife to keep happy every day?
I wasn’t demanding of him, ever.
I’d never had great romance, never lived with anyone, not been married to anyone – just married to my job since I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Forensic Biology from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
It seemed like such a logical step to enroll at the police academy in Norfolk.It was my home town, I knew the deputy chief who was and old army buddy of my dad’s.Finishing at the top of my class at the academy, together with my degree – and my specialty – helped me leap ahead of many others at that time. Also, there was a huge push on to advance more women into senior ranks on the force. Affirmative action is nice when it helps you take legitimately earned steps, two at a time, but I didn’t have lofty ambitions.
I just wanted to be a good cop.
Early days on the force were hard. Being a black woman leapfrogging white men on a traditionally white male force didn’t make for pretty morale building opportunities. I worked hard. I got ahead. It wasn’t anything like a script for In The Heat Of The Night, but in some ways not so far removed from that era. For a while there were jokes about calling me Mrs. Tibbs, but that was mostly hazing.Sure, it was racial, but it was more a way of giving Ralph a hard time that it was directed at me. It wasn’t the 60’s, and it wasn’t Mississippi.
Heads turned when I was paired with a veteran white homicide detective. I didn’t care. Ralph often commented that some of his old academy buddies wouldn’t talk to him after that. He brushed it off as “they weren’t really my friends then, were they?” He was right, but he felt the impacts all the same.
Working with Ralph was easier than I expected. He was tough, fair and he taught me a lot.He often said he’d like to try teaching at the academy one day, but he never made a move even though Rachel had being trying to pressure him to slow down, to get off shift-work so he could spend more time with his family – but most of all, she wanted him out of harm’s way.
I knew, at best, I might be a 4th priority in his life after Rachel and their two kids.I harbored no illusions he would leave them for me.Ours was a series of days of togetherness, bonded in ways that are too hard to explain, mixed with occasional slipping between my sheets, between shifts, between days on and days off.We’d probably made love less than fifty times in three years of intimacy, three years of no one in my life, three years without dates, three years without a partner on holidays, at Christmas or on vacations.That price, it always seemed, was worth paying.
I do Ralph the greater honor by trying, now, to live my new life in a way that shows the impact he had on who I am. He was a partner of such enormous integrity and kindness and I just learned so much from him about what it is to be a decent human being. I want to take those lessons on with me and make whatever happens in the future better because of what was....not worse.
It was a gift I wasn’t expecting.
I was feeling sorry for myself one Saturday morning when I saw the job advertised; to become a member of the Violent Crimes Task Force in High Point. As it was described, it seemed something I was well qualified for.I quickly guessed there were no candidates for the job in High Point, otherwise why would they advertise in Norfolk?
I sent my resume off that Monday, heard from Chief Healy’s office within day – after that it was whirlwind of interviews, selling my house in Smithfield, packing, moving, finding a place to live and getting settled in before my start date of July 1st .
Barely time to think, or to think too much – and now, drama was entering my life again, on the job . . . like a made for TV homicide drama . . .
“Hello! How are you today Jonas? Did you have a wonderful time last night with Gladys”
Jonas responded without skipping a beat as he dropped his briefcase on his desk and took a sip of his coffee, “It was great.Your suggestion of a walk in the park after dinner instead of going to a movie was a super idea. I’m not much of a dater, as I was telling you, so your suggestion was great.Maybe I should have been getting a woman’s perspective all along!”
I said, “Jonas, I’m no expert – just telling you what I thought I would prefer if I was having a first date with a guy I wanted to learn more about. You can’t learn much about someone sitting in a dark movie theatre, no matter how good the movie is.”
And then the call came in.
It was an urgent call out to the old Carolina Furniture plant - out on Hwy 311, an old furniture warehouse that belonged to a long defunct furniture manufacturer.
An FBI and ATF team attempted takedown of a drug and gun smuggling operation that was using the building went bad.There were two officers dead at the scene and three others pinned down.Our Monday morning Task Force meeting would have to wait, as eight of us sprinted for our cars.All cars were on the way, most getting there before we did due to the distance from the station house to the scene.
By the time we got there, it looked like it was all over.Uniforms were hooking guys up, shoving them in the police van, except for four they cuffed to gurneys for their ambulance ride.The place was a maze of flashing lights.Fire trucks were there too because, in the shootout, something triggered a fire in some debris piled by the side of the warehouse.
That’s what it looked like at first, but the fire captain said it looked more like an arson attempt by the guys holding cops at bay, to torch the warehouse and all the evidence along with it.As a former furniture factory, there was no shortage of combustibles on material racks inside. It looked like this stuff had been gathering dust for years, so it was probably dry enough to go up in smoke very quickly.
We entered the warehouse with much caution just the same.All six of us had our vests on, headsets too – Jonas led us in, directing us to break in groups of two to clear each section of the scene.He and I went side by side, right down the centre aisle while our team members worked on either side of us.
We were walking sideways, literally back-to-back. Talk about having your partner’s back!
We came to a body, shot twice in the chest – cold, sprawled in the aisle where he had fallen – likely from some spot on the racking up above.No pulse, rigor set in.His watch had smashed on the concrete floor.It said 2:15.Broken watches are right twice a day, but when they are smashed they simply tell the time when they were smashed.
As we approached the middle section of the warehouse, the racking ended, giving way to the factory floor. There was a cluster of dingy looking offices there, in the middle next to a row of planers and lathes.
We heard a creak. Everyone froze, held our positions and focused our flashlights on that cluster of offices.
A door opened. It closed. Opened again. Did anyone move, or was it just a breeze through a dusty old factory pushing things around.
As we moved in, we found two bodies in an office where, as it appeared to us, they had been loading up duffel bags of cash and guns.A man and a woman, both appeared to have bled out. She was face down on the floor, carpet around her saturated with fresh blood.It looked fresh.The male had been shot too, execution style in the back of the head – hands bound with rope, he fell forward across her body. We didn’t want to disturb the scene until our forensic team could get on site to take photos and catalogue evidence.I pulled the male’s wallet out of his back pocket.His wallet was full of cash, credit cards and a driver’s license that identified him as Anthony Baglio, with a Norfolk address.
I said, “Jonas, this guy is a Baglio – I wonder if he is related to my ex-partner’s step-kids. Their name is Baglio”.
Then we heard a sound, soft at first . . . too hard to hear, then again, “Lydia, is that you? Help me, please Lydia.”
It was Rachel.
“Rachel, hold on … we’ll get help.”
“I hollered into my mouthpiece … get the paramedics in here, NOW”
“Jonas, help me get this guy off her. She’s alive, Rachel is alive.”
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