Within a few minutes of Geoffrey announcing her death, my Uncle Harry had come over to see us. Harry was formerly a NYC police officer; however, Evelyn told me he had recently retired.
“I called 911. The cops are on their way. I told them that she’s already dead but there’s probably a good chance they’ll find some fresh evidence here,” Harry interrupted. “Brody, it’s good to see you again. I wish it were under better circumstances.”
He shook my hand weakly, looked down at the body, and then pulled Jeremiah away. “Jeremiah, come with me. It’s better not to stay here right now.”
As Jeremiah walked away, I saw an open cell phone lying on the ground just a few feet away. I wondered if she was on a call when she was shot. I didn’t want to disturb the body, and I had really seen enough at that point to even begin to help find evidence.
Geoffrey got up, and I could see his shirt was covered in blood. He walked to the stone bench and sat down on the edge. He looked ruffled, so I approached him.
“Geoffrey, are you OK?”
“Yes, it’s still difficult to see someone die, even being a doctor,” he replied.
He seemed very affected, but perhaps it was because she was his brother’s new girlfriend. I wondered if Geoffrey was like that with all his patients. When you haven’t seen someone in five years, a lot could change.
“I imagine so. Why don’t you go get yourself a drink from the bar? It looks like the cops just arrived,” I said.
Geoffrey walked over to the bar. The police entered and immediately started sectioning people off into a few different areas of the patio. The man who seemed to be in charge approached the body, motioned to a few officers and started what I assumed would be a long night. From where I was standing, he appeared to be in his late forties, slightly balding and with shiny skin.
“Who found the body?” he questioned. “I’m Detective Somers. I’d like to first speak with whomever was standing closest to the body when you came outside. Who would that be?”
Geoffrey, Evelyn, Jeremiah and I all motioned to the detective. He asked everyone else to remain calm, indicated that a few of his colleagues would ask them some questions and they would be free to go after that. He left the room and told the four of us that we should remain with another uniformed police officer.
One by one, the officer took us all aside to meet with Detective Somers. The officer also told us that we were not to speak with one another until after the detective interviewed all of us. And so I sat in silence for about 30 minutes while Jeremiah went in first. After about 20 minutes, I saw him head over to the front gate entrance. It appeared as if he was about to leave.
Evelyn went in next. Once she was finished, she went directly to the bartender and ordered a drink. I assumed she ordered her usual vodka straight up. We shared the same taste in drinks.
Apparently, I was the next to be escorted to the inquisition room. The officer brought me to what seemed to be a small office adjacent to the hallway of the reception room. Detective Somers was sitting already, his coat laid over the chair opposite of him. I took the only open seat, across from another uniformed officer who introduced himself as Office Tate. As I got closer, I could see that the detective was actually closer to his 60s.
“As I said earlier, I am Detective Chris Somers. I will ask you a few questions about the events that occurred this evening. Let’s start with your name, please?” Somers began.
“Brody Hillcrest. I was standing with Evelyn and Geoffrey when she noticed the body in the fountain.”
“Nice to meet you, Brody. So, if I understand correctly, you just arrived from Europe today? And you were here for your cousin’s party?”
“Yes, I’ve been out of town for a few years and came back to celebrate my cousin’s new book. I’d only been at the party for about 20 minutes when we found the body.”
As Officer Tate wrote down everything I said, Somers just stared persistently on me. “And did you know the deceased?”
“No. I did not. I learned afterwards that she was my cousin’s girlfriend. I believe her name is Gwen.” I shifted my weight from one side to the other. I was never comfortable being questioned by authority figures.
“That is correct. Her name was Gwen Reade. She was here with Jeremiah Granton, who I presume is your first cousin from what both he and Evelyn have told me. Did you meet Gwen at any point this evening?”
“Well, not really. I never formally spoke to her, but I did see her standing on the patio shortly before she was shot.” I noticed the detective’s eyes widened as he became more interested in the conversation.
“Please explain what you mean. Was she alone out there? Where were you? Why were you out there?”
“I had arrived at the party at 6:15. I came through the front entrance but had pre-arranged with my cousin Evelyn, as a surprise for our family, to be standing in a specific place by 6:30. I had a few minutes to spare, so I walked through the back patio to see what the old place looked like. I hadn’t been there in at least ten or fifteen years. As I approached the patio, I saw a woman in a blue dress. I could hear her talking to someone. At that time, I thought she was there physically with someone else but just now when I saw the cell phone lying on the ground, it occurred to me that I didn’t hear any other voices when she was talking. I then assumed that she may have been talking on the phone. I couldn’t really hear much of the conversation. I turned away so that I didn’t interrupt her and headed back into the reception area.”
Detective Somers motioned at me to stop talking and noted, “You’re very aware of your surroundings, Mr. Hillcrest. But, we should make no assumptions that she was or was not on a cell phone at this point. We’ll check the phone company’s records to get a call log for the time of her death. Did you hear any part of the conversation?”
“I heard just a little bit. I could tell she was agitated and she was speaking in an upset tone. I couldn’t make out the full sentences, but I believe she said something about not wanting her secret revealed as it would result in a lot of problems. That is all I can remember right now, Detective.”
“That’s a good start. And the next time you saw her, she was floating in the fountain?”
“Yes. I walked up to her with my cousins. Evelyn screamed, and then Geoffrey went to the fountain and pulled her out. He was attending to her and I was a bit too far away to see specifically what was going on. I could just tell she was dead by the looks of the situation.”
“Ok, please be sure to contact me if you need remember anything else. Please fill out your contact information on the sheet that Officer Tate hands you. We’ll be in touch.”
“I’m free to go?” It seemed like there were more questions he should have asked.
The Detective nodded, so I completed the form Officer Tate gave me and headed back out to the bar. Evelyn was gone, but Jeremiah was now sitting alone.
I thought to myself how upset Jeremiah must be to find his girlfriend murdered at a party for his family. Dying in a car accident is horrible enough, but to find out that someone you care for was murdered must be far worse.
I approached the bar. “Jeremiah, may I sit with you?”
“Brody, of course. I could use the company. I am in such a state of shock. I don’t understand this. We were happy. We came to the party together. She was going to get us some more drinks, and then she just disappeared. What happened? Who did this?”
He seemed extremely distraught, as most people would be in this situation. I had trouble finding the right words.
“Jeremiah, I am so very sorry. This is a tragedy. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Jeremiah sat in silence for a few minutes. “Yes, Brody, there is something. I need you to help me figure out who did this to Gwen. You’re the perfect person to help me. Maybe that’s why you came back home.”
What does one say in response to that question? I didn’t come back to investigate who murdered his girlfriend? I’m not a cop or detective. I don’t even know anything about Jeremiah anymore.
“Brody, someone did this to her and we need to figure out who’s responsible. Someone needs to push the police not to treat this as just any other murder. You have such a sharp mind. You were a news researcher and reporter for years. You’re a mystery buff and you’ve read every detective novel out there by now. You must help me.”
I could sympathize with his innate desire to find meaning in what happened. But I didn’t think I was the person to help him with that right now.
“Jeremiah, I am not sure what to say. Yes, I’ve read a lot of mysteries and done a lot of news research, but that certainly doesn’t qualify me to start playing detective to solve a real murder. I don’t even know anything about Gwen or you for that matter. Where would I even start?”
Jeremiah grabbed hold of me. “You must stay and help me. I’ll tell you everything you need to know. I’ll tell you about Gwen and me and who her friends are, where she works. I have a key to her apartment. We can go in and check it out. What do you need to know about her?”
“Jeremiah, I’m really not sure what to say. I need to think about it. I think you’re reaching out to anyone who can help right now, but it’s for the wrong reasons. It’s hard to lose someone you love. I know this. I’ve been through it before. Trust me. Can we let it go for tonight and just let the news sink in, talk more tomorrow?”
Jeremiah shrugged his shoulders and dropped his head down on the bar. “Sure.”
I wasn’t ready to turn him down right now and I knew he needed to talk about her. “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about her so maybe I’ll feel more connected? Who was Gwen? How did you meet?”
Jeremiah was more than interested in talking about her. It was obvious that he had fallen in love with her. His eyes had a shine to them when he said her name.
“I met Gwen about three months ago. We were at a party together and hit it off. We started dating just after that and we had gotten pretty close in the last couple of weeks. She even gave me this key to her apartment so I could come over at night after my shifts at the hospital. She lives over in Levittown. It’s not the best place, but she didn’t really have a lot of money. She was in secretarial school hoping to pick up some business skills and get into marketing in the future.”
I nodded to let him know I was listening. So far, she seemed like a nice girl. I wondered what secret she was trying to hide earlier. He continued.
“She was a really sweet girl, kept to herself and didn’t really have a lot of friends. Her best friend is Kathryn and she lives nearby. I probably have her number at home. Gwen wasn’t perfect, I know that. She wouldn’t talk about her past, and she seemed to have some troubles as a kid. But she always did right by me and even though it was only 3 months, I had started to fall in love with her. This was the first family event I took her to. I didn’t want to scare her away; you know how everyone is in this family. Geoffrey, of course, met her before the party. I had to see what my brother thought before I would bring her to the party.”
“And what did Geoffrey think?” I asked. I could tell it was helping him to talk about her to someone who didn’t know her.
“You know Geoffrey. No one’s good enough for me. But he didn’t say anything bad about her, just that he didn’t think she was right for me. Come to think of it, he really didn’t say much. I think he changed the subject when I tried to get his feedback.”
“Well, you’re right. Geoffrey only wants the best for you, and maybe he thinks you were falling in love too soon. Do you need a ride home? You shouldn’t be by yourself tonight.”
Jeremiah thanked me for the offer, but was pretty determined to spend some time on his own. I figured he had a few tears to shed and wanted his privacy. I left him at the bar, then strolled back to the room where the officer asked us to stay earlier. It appeared that Geoffrey was still in with Detective Tate. I checked my voice mail. Evelyn had called and said she wanted to meet for brunch in the morning. She didn’t want to stick around tonight after what happened and promised to call the next morning.
I looked for my parents, but they were gone, as well. I’d have to call them in the morning, too. At this point, all I could think about was getting back to the hotel to get some time on my own, too. And I needed sleep. I had been up for over twenty-fours so far. As I walked to my rental car, I could see Geoffrey crossing the far side of the parking lot. He’d gotten finished pretty quickly, it seemed. As I closed the door to my car, Geoffrey took off on his motorcycle and raced out of the parking lot. I wondered why he was in such a rush.