Wednesday 6 – Saturday 9 November 2013
The house, despite having a crowd of police, friends, and relatives currently occupying it, felt empty to Wade. It was something that he’d come to realise in the last few hours; Nora had always been the one who welcomed visitors into their home, and he was currently fumbling his way through social protocols of offering refreshments and snacks to visitors and police alike. Erica, sensing that he was struggling, followed him back into the kitchen.
‘You suck at this, Wade,’ she said. He looked up from the bench, and shot her a pathetic smile.
‘You come to give me a hand, or are you just going to stand there and critique everything I do?’
She knew from his tone that this was as close to a funny comment that he could muster, and her reply, she hoped, would be taken in the same manner.
‘Mmmmm, I’m undecided about that at this time.’
She wrapped her arm around his shoulder, and then kissed his cheek.
‘Careful, people will talk,’ he said.
‘Screw them. Let people say whatever they want.’
‘Ordinarily, I’d agree with you, but at the moment, given that I’m the prime suspect, I’m not sure that they’re words that I want anyone to misconstrue.’ He took a step away from the young artist, and began to fuss with the cups, saucers, and mugs in front of him. ‘I could use some help with the sandwiches. I’ve got the drinks covered, I think, but the food is a bit beyond me. Nora always . . .’
Erica moved away from Wade, and over to the kitchen bench where he had begun to prepare some food. She busied herself with the construction of sandwiches, but out of the corner of her eye, she kept a watch on Wade. His achingly slow breakdown was painful for her to see. Without Nora, Wade Aitcheson was nothing. He hadn’t always been so reliant on Nora; there had been a time when Nora was completely dependent upon Wade, and he was the stronger personality in the relationship. Somewhere along the way, however, their roles had been reversed, and the only place that Wade ever displayed that strength was at work.
‘Why are there police stationed here, Wade? Are they keeping an eye on you?’ Erica asked.
‘No,’ he mumbled, ‘they’re expecting some kind of ransom call. If she’s still alive, then they think the kidnapper will call and demand money for her release.’
‘Does that mean you’re no longer a suspect?’
‘I wish,’ he replied. ‘I’m still up there at the top of their list of chief suspects, but I think they’re trying to cover all of their bases, just in case it later comes out that I’m not the one who did this?’
‘You’re speaking as if you did have something to do with Nora’s disappearance, Wade,’ said Erica. She stopped making the sandwich, and looked at Wade. He raised his eyebrows in what she thought was defeat, as if he were giving in to the false perception of himself that the police had. In her heart, Erica knew that Wade couldn’t have anything to do with Nora being abducted.
‘We should really get on with organising these refreshments,’ he replied, fobbing off Erica’s comment as if he hadn’t heard it.
The worked in silence for a while, but Wade couldn’t help himself; he had to mention what he’d been thinking since he’d spoken to Erica.
‘I can’t help but wonder what your parents would think about all of this.’
She placed the butter knife she’d been holding on to the bench, her head lowered as if in prayer.
‘I’m sorry,’ Wade said, ‘I didn’t mean to upset you.’
‘You didn’t.’ Erica was quick to reply, and Wade knew that meant that he had, indeed, hit a nerve and upset her.
‘Sorry,’ he said again.
She picked up the butter knife again, and continued to spread mayonnaise on slices of bread.
‘I think,’ she said quietly, ‘they’d be supportive of you, otherwise, why would they have made you my godfather? And I’m sure they would have also had some . . . alternative theory on what’s happened.’ She smiled at the thought of her seemingly middleclass parents concocting some conspiracy theory as to who had abducted Nora, and why she’d been taken.
‘Yeah, they probably would. Maybe your dad’s explanation would be that a rival gallery curator, who was jealous of the artwork coming into Rossini, had taken her and was holding her for ransom until I agreed to let his gallery have some of the latest works I’d managed to acquire.’
‘It’s not such a crazy idea though, is it? Are there any other curators who might be pissed off with you over acquisitions? What about Marvin Turner?’
‘What about Marvin Turner?’ Detective Hugh Scott said as he lumbered into the kitchen.
‘We were just –’
‘You were just what?’ he asked Erica.
‘Tossing ideas around. That’s all,’ she replied.
‘Well, little artist girl, you’d do best to leave that up to the professionals,’ Scott sneered.
‘And you’d do best to give my goddaughter some respect whilst you’re a guest in my house, Detective Scott, lest you want me to speak with your superior,’ Wade snapped in reply.
As he stepped further into the kitchen, Scott raised his hands in faux deference to Wade.
‘My apologies, Ms. Keen, my apologies.’ He snapped his head around to look at Wade. ‘Your goddaughter? Is that what all this secrecy between you two has been about? She’s your goddaughter?’
‘It’s not information that either of us wants thrown around in public, Detective Scott. Too many people in our field would view it as nepotism,’ Wade replied.
‘View what as nepotism?’ asked the detective.
‘The fact that Erica has so many pieces on display in the Rossini Gallery. Yes, sure, I’ve been fortunate in that I can help Erica achieve a name and reputation in the art world, but if she wasn’t truly talented, there’s no way I’d have purchased any of her work. Unfortunately, many of our contemporaries would loudly disagree if they ever discovered the relationship I have with Erica.’
Erica glared at the detective. She analysed his expression as Wade explained their relationship. She knew what he was thinking because it was the same thing that everyone thought when they saw how Wade and she interacted.
‘No, Detective Scott, we are not having an affair,’ she directed at Scott.
‘I never said you were,’ he replied.
‘You may not have said it, but you were thinking it. And I’d hazard a guess that you were about to ask. So, now you know.’
‘Yep, now I know.’
‘And while we’re having such an amicable conversation, Detective Scott, do you have any suspects in Nora’s disappearance?’
‘Well, Ms. Keen –’
‘Suspects other than Wade?’ she pushed.
Scott stood speechless. As far as he was concerned, there were no other suspects. In Scott’s eyes, Wade Aitcheson was as guilty as sin.
. . . To be continued . . .