Elijah sits uncomfortably in the straight-backed wooden chair as he stares across the table at the two plainclothes detectives. The room is both too cold and too hot: the hot water convector radiators pop and spit and hiss as they try and fail to heat the room. It's clear they need to be bled, and that they've needed it for a long time. When Eli gets too close, the room is uncomfortably humid and warm, but after a certain point the heat disappears. The humidity remains, however.
Elijah wears a simple brown two-piece suit, button-up white shirt, no tie, and shoes that badly need polishing. The police wear similar attire: one in a slightly darker shade of brown, one a very dark blue, both in button-up shirts—the cop in the brown suit wears white, the cop in the blue suit wears a lighter shade of blue—and ties, black and yellow, respectively. The brown-suited cop—Detective Ellers—keeps his collar buttoned. The blue-suited cop—Morris—does not.
Both stare at him with admirable poker faces.
“Thank you for coming in,” Detective Ellers says. He looks like the younger of the two. He's in his mid-thirties, and has shaggy blond hair that looks like windswept dandelion, with shaggy eyebrows to match. His partner, Morris, is older and heavier, with curly dark hair, thinning at the top and graying on the sides. Curiously, his eyebrows, while dark, match Ellers' almost exactly.
Elijah nods, but doesn't say anything. He's pretty sure he knows what's going to happen next, and he's trying to prepare for it.
“We know this is a difficult time,” Detective Ellers continues, “and we'll try to intrude as little as possible. But in cases like these we have to ask a lot of questions, and some of the questions you won't like.”
“You need to rule me out as a suspect,” Elijah says. “More to the point, I'm a suspect now and you need to determine whether I should continue to be one.”
Detective Ellers says nothing. Morris' brow furrows slightly, and he writes something in a spiral notebook he holds in his lap.
“It's OK,” Elijah says. “I get it. It makes sense to look at the husband. But I hope you move past this part soon, because I had nothing to do with it, and the time you're spending with me is time you're not spending on other people.”
“Not exactly, true,” Morris says. He has a rumbling, phlegmy voice, the voice of a long-time smoker. “We aren't the only ones investigating what happened, and after you're cleared the interview may still provide us with information that leads to a suspect. You knew your wife best, after all.”
Elijah likes the way Morris said after you're cleared as a suspect. It implies that Morris thinks he's innocent, but doesn't actually confirm anything. A trick like that has probably lulled more than a few guilty suspects into a false sense of security.
“Then ask your questions,” Elijah says. “I'm sure I won't like where they go, but I'll answer.”
“It's nothing to worry about,” Detective Ellers says. “As long as you have nothing to hide.”
Elijah laughs sharply. “In my line of work, Detective, you come to learn that everyone has something to hide.”
There's a brief silence as they stare across the table at each other. Then Ellers shrugs. “Let's get started. What is your line of work.”
“I'm the Pastor of Foundation Baptist Church. 1403 Fullerton Heights.”
“Baptist,” Ellers says. “Not many of those up here. Mostly Catholics and Lutherans.”
“We are a little far north,” Elijah agrees. “We're a small church. Active, though. I'm pretty busy most days.”
“And where were you when your wife disappeared?”
“When she was taken,” Elijah says. “I was at church. In my office. Working on Sunday's sermon.”
“Can you confirm your whereabouts?”
Elijah shakes his head. “I was alone for most of the night. We don't have any activities going on Thursdays.”
“You have an office in your home,” Ellers says. “Why weren't you writing there?”
Elijah shrugs. “Something about writing a sermon in the church where you're going to deliver it. Especially when it's quiet. The church is very quiet on Thursday nights.”
Ellers looks over at Morris, who has been writing nonstop in his notebook the entire time.
“I'm afraid I don't have much of an alibi,” Elijah says. “At least not until Deacon Phillip—that's Phillip Macey—came in to tell me about Sarah.”
“I have a question about that.” Detective Morris doesn't look up from his notebook. “Why did he come in person?”
Elijah sighs. “They called my cell first, apparently. I'd… turned it off. I usually turn it off when I'm writing—the notifications distract me. Twitter. Facebook. That kind of thing. I figured everyone would use my office number. That's what Sarah did earlier.”
Morris' writing becomes more animated. “When did she call?”
“Around five thirty,” Elijah says. “We talked for about half an hour. At some point after that, apparently the phone went dead.”
“Tree knocked over a telephone pole four blocks over,” Detective Ellers says. “Took out the whole block.”
“That's why Phil came in person. Apparently the officers tried calling my cell, then the church, then a neighbor used the call tree.”
“What's that?” Morris asks.
“Some of our neighbors attend the church,” Elijah says. “The call tree is what we use to contact people during an emergency. If someone's in the hospital, everyone has a designated set of people to call in order to spread the word that something important is happening. So they started the call tree, and when the calls got around to Phillip he knew where I was supposed to be, he had a key, so he drove by to see if I knew. I went home as soon as I heard.”
“How old are you, Mr. Marks?” Ellers this time. Ellers and Morris are very comfortable cutting in on each other—they've done this plenty of times, and so far everything is routine.
“Thirty-four. My birthday is February the eighth.”
“How long have you been married?”
Detective Ellers leans in slightly. “How would you characterize your relationship?”
Detective Morris stops writing and looks up from his notepad to peer at him.
“It's… good,” Elijah says. “We love each other very much.”
Both detectives say nothing.
“I won't pretend we're happy every day. It doesn't work that way. We argue over things. A lot of things, some days—some important, some not. There are days I'm so angry and frustrated with her I can't think straight. I assume she's the same with me—we're both rather strong-willed people, and if we get set on opposing courses of action there's war until we sort it out.”
“I thought you Baptists were all about the woman being meek and submissive,” Morris says.
Elijah frowns slightly. “Some Baptists claim to think that, yes.”
“I've never met a Baptist that was meek and submissive about anything.”
Morris snorts and writes something in his notepad.
“What does your wife do?” Ellers asks.
“She's a writer,” Elijah says.
“What does she write?”
“History books, mostly. Non-fiction.”
“Was she working on anything recently?”
“Yes,” Elijah says. “She's working on something new, but I don't know what. She doesn't talk about it until after she's finished a draft she can live with. She wasn't there yet.”
“Do you know why?” Morris asks.
Elijah shrugs. “She hasn't been working on it long. Only a few weeks. I imagine she hasn't got to the end yet, but other than that, no, I don't know why.”
“Does she have any enemies?” Ellers asks.
“None that I know of,” Elijah says. “Maybe some academics and critics who don't like her books. I can't think of anyone locally.”
“What about you?”
Elijah laughs in spite of himself. “Not exactly enemies, no.”
Ellers raises an eyebrow.
“I'm a pastor at a Baptist church,” Elijah says. “Ultimately I answer to the Board of Deacons, but day-to-day, on a practical level, I lead the church. When I make a decision that makes a member of the church angry, they complain to the Deacons. When I make a decision that makes a Deacon angry, I hear about it very quickly.”
“So you have enemies at your church,” Ellers says.
“Like I said, not exactly,” Elijah says. “We're a very strong-willed family. We don't always get along, and we aren't always happy with each other all the time, but we're still family.”
“Families do terrible things to each other all the time,” Morris points out.
“I suppose,” Elijah says, “but I can't think of anyone who would be that way…”
He sighs and leans forward, putting his elbows on the table as he rubs his temples. “Look, Detectives, I'll help however I can, but there's not much I know. Sarah called around five-thirty. We talked for a while. She said she'd been home all day, made progress on her book, asked when I'd be back. I said I'd probably be late, because I wanted to get the first draft of the sermon finished before I left. She said she'd probably be asleep when I got home...”
“What did you have for dinner?” Ellers asks.
“Drive through,” Elijah says. “I think the receipt might still be on my desk. I brought it back to the office, kept working, then I lost track of time. Until Phil rushed in—nearly gave himself a heart attack trying to get there, I think.”
“And then what happened?”
Elijah looks down at the table. “I ran out as soon as he told me. I don't even think I said anything to him, I just grabbed my keys and ran to the car. I probably broke every traffic law there is getting home. After that… well.”
“Do you know a Charles McAlister?” Once again Detective Morris doesn't bother looking up from his notebook, but he stops writing for a moment, pencil poised as if in mid-stroke.
Elijah narrows his eyes slightly, focusing on the man in the blue suit. “No. Should I?”
“Lester Aspen? Clara Brumley?”
“Aspen is her mother's maiden name,” Elijah says. “Beyond that, no. What's going on? Have you learned something?”
For the first time, Detective Eller's expression softens into something approaching sympathy. “We couldn't tell you even if we did, Mr. Marks. Not at this time. Right now we have to ask a lot of questions and leave you hanging. That's just how it's gotta be.”
Elijah takes a long breath. “Fine. Well, keep asking.”
“You get along with her folks OK?” Ellers asks.
“Albert and Eleanor Findlay,” Elijah says. “Yeah, we get along fine.”
“No friction? No resentment because you stole away their little girl?”
“Poor choice of words,” Ellers says. “Sorry.”
“No resentment,” Elijah says. “They were a little leery of her marrying a preacher. It's not what you'd call a high-salary profession unless you're doing it wrong. But on a personal level we get along very well.”
“What about your parents?”
Elijah's expression grows distant. “She gets along with them much better than I do.”
“Did she act unusual over the last few days?”
“Not that I noticed,” Elijah says. “Her behavior changes when she's deep in the weeds of writing a book, so her behavior was different than usual, but not different from the way she acts when she's in that space.”
“What's she like when she's in that space?”
“Distant. Distracted. Acting like she was always somewhere else. But it was the same kind of different, I guess. I wouldn't consider it unusual.”
“Did it change your routine at all?”
“Yes,” he says. “It did. We only have the one car, and she said she needed it for research. So on Monday and Tuesday she dropped me off at the church in the morning, and she used the car for the rest of the day. She was going to do it again on Wednesday, but on Tuesday she said 'Wednesday didn't work out' and I had the car again.”
“Do you know anything about these meetings?” Morris asks.
Elijah shakes his head. “She never talked about it. She might have something in her notes, or on her calendar. She sometimes recorded interviews on her phone. You're in a better position to know more than I am.”
The last part comes out more bitterly than he intends. Morris glances up from his notebook, a flash of sympathy crossing his face.
“Would you like to take a break?” Morris asks. “Get something to drink?”
“No, I'd like to finish. If there's important information you can get from me, I'd prefer you got it sooner than later.”
“I'd take us up on the break,” Morris advises. “In cases like these, the initial interview can take a pretty long time.”