For the rest of the day and into the early evening Niles sat in the living room of his home with Tom and Sid assembling their notes into a comprehensive reports.
After Tom and Sid left Niles reclined in his chair amid dim lights and drawn shades and curtains.
Niles needed to talk with someone. He called Annie.
“Hi, Niles. It’s good to hear from you.”
“Thanks,” Niles said.
“Is everything okay?” Annie said, “you don’t sound good.”
“Right now I don’t know who else to call,” Niles said.
“I’m not sure this is the best idea,” Annie said.
“Here me out first,” Niles said, “and if you want the conversation the end just say you’ve had enough.”
“That sounds fair,” Annie said.
“Today a lady named Mildred was shot and killed,” Niles said.
“That’s terrible,” Annie said.
“She’s the town clerk and works on the floor above me,” Niles said. “I don’t know how to explain it; I was talking to her and telling her to take cover. She didn’t move and when I got up close to her I saw she got hit and was gone, a single rifle shot to the head.”
“Have you thought about talking to a professional?” Annie said.
“I don’t think it’s gone that far yet,” Niles said.
“Maybe it’s best you talk to someone before it does,” Annie said.
“That’s why I called,” Niles said.
“Go ahead, Niles,” Annie said.
“She was kind and gruff on the outside, but wonderful and delightful on the inside,” Niles said.
“Have you talked with your dad yet?” Annie said.
“No,” Niles said.
“I think I know why,” Annie said. “She’s near the age of what your mother might be.”
“It’s sort of funny,” Niles said. “I was imagining inviting dad to visit me and introduce him to Mildred, a silly fantasy.”
“Not really,” Annie said, “you just wanted to help two lonely people.”
“There’s more,” Niles said.
“Sure, Niles,” Annie said. “Go ahead.”
“There’s a two year old unsolved murder I’ve been looking into,” Niles said, “And I can’t help but think the two are related. I may have been the reason for her murder. I’ve been poking around. I may have stirred things up.”
“The only person that is to blame for that is the one who fired the gun,” Annie said.
“I know the logic,” Niles said. “but it really doesn’t help.”
“So you’re not looking for anyone to talk you out of guilt?” Annie said.
“No,” Niles said. “I need to talk it over with someone I respect and not close by. Someone who won’t judge me, but at the same time be straight with me.”
“I understand,” Annie said.
“So be straight with me,” Niles said.
“I’m no psychologist,” Annie said. “and I don’t even know if this is a proper designation, but perhaps you are grieving your mother’s death through Mildred, a grieving by proxy.”
“Leave it to a lawyer to come up with a new disorder,” Niles joked.
“Sometimes names have to be given to the things we can’t explain, but know they are real,” Annie said.
“For one of the first times in my life I feel incapable of solving something,” Niles said. “I’m afraid of finding an ugliness I can’t face. It will be the embodiment, the collection of all evils exposed in one case. It always has been there and I’ve built a wall around myself, built of evidence, theories, and reports. They distract from the darkness and evil that moves people to take the life of another.”
“I think leaving New York was the best thing for you, but you didn’t need this murder,” Annie said. “Perhaps another, but not this one.”
“I can’t say that it’s personal, although it is,” Niles said, “The two year old murder seems abstract; an academic exercise, a game of Clue.”
Annie lightly laughed. “You always lost at Clue.”
“I’m sure glad they didn’t give that as a test for homicide detectives,” Niles said, “I’d have ended up in administration.”
“I’ve always said, it is good there are detectives like you.” Annie said. “I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to carry things around with you. I wouldn’t want to go to a doctor when he took off his stethoscope started thinking about golf. Maybe I should have used another analogy.”
“You got me laughing, Annie,” Niles said.
“You saying that’s what I’m only good for?” Annie said.
“I’m getting in trouble,” Niles chortled. “I guess that means it’s time to go.”
“If you want to talk longer, that’s okay,” Annie said.
“No,” Niles said. “Somebody your age should get as much sleep as possible.”
“Good night, I…” Annie said. “I think it’s time we should both get some sleep.”
“Night,” Niles said.