The day of the meeting, I made coffee and set out mugs on a silver tray ready for our guests. I straightened the pillows on the living room sofa, glanced at the thin film of dust, barely visible on the end table, and decided to ignore it. It was a meeting after all – not a visit.
I began to pace. Cliff wasn’t home yet. We still hadn’t talked. All my fears started to surface. What if now – in desperation – they would accuse Cliff again of the murder? Their suspicion had always been lurking in the background all these 22 some years. My mind was beginning to cycle. If it came up, we would need to call a lawyer.
I was just about to call Cliff on his cell when I noticed his van pull up on the driveway. He came in breathing heavily, carrying two large bags – basically his transportable office for his janitorial business.
“Have to shower,” he said, taking off his jacket and starting down the hallway to the bedroom.
“No time to shower.” I followed him, picking up his bags and taking them to his office so they would be safely out of sight. “They are going to be here any minute. Put on something black.”
“No time to discuss it. Just wear something black.”
He was already taking off his shirt when I walked into the bedroom. “Black, always black. What is it with you and black?” he grumbled.
There was something in his tone that told me that he was as worried as I was.
“Confidence,” I said. “It’s all about confidence. And we need all the confidence we can muster for this visit.”
He picked out black trousers from his closet, a charcoal shirt. I nodded my agreement.
“I’ve made coffee for them,” I said. “But I don’t have any bottled water. I forgot to pick some up.”
He smiled. “I forgot to pick up donuts,” he said, chuckling. “I promised them donuts.”
I winced. “No donut jokes. Please – no donut jokes.”
I sat down momentarily on the bed.
“But before they come, we need to have a plan,” I said. “We still haven’t chosen a secret word or some kind of code to use if we sense something is coming down. We need to be able to signal to each other if we are feeling overwhelmed – losing control – or if there is danger.”
He shrugged. “If I think we need a lawyer, I’ll just say so.”
It was hard to explain to him my fears. After all these years, he still had no realization of the intense suspicions aimed at our whole family – and particularly him. “We might want to caucus in the kitchen before we confront them with calling a lawyer,” I insisted.
The doorbell rang.
“Green thumb,” I said. “The secret signal will be green thumb. If I say something about a ‘green thumb’ then you know we need to talk privately. I’ll head for the kitchen and you come help me with coffee or something.”
“Green thumb? You’ll never be able to bring that up in a conversation.”
I thought about it again. He was right. It did sound crazy. I had thought it might be easy to look at all our green plants in the living room, point them out and say something about Cliff’s green thumb. But our guests were going to be men.
“Bottled water,” I tried again. “We can use the words ‘bottled water’ for our secret code.”
“But we don’t have bottled water,” he said.
The doorbell rang a second time. I started down the hallway. Cliff was close at my heels.
“Bottled water it is,” I said. “If I refer to bottled water – head for the kitchen.”
There were three men standing there – tall – all dressed in black.
We invited them in to sit down.
They sat down. Three officers dressed in black, in our living room reminding me of that first night when Candace disappeared. It was bringing it all back. Flashbacks, memories – and those dreadful feelings of their accusations.
The officer who had called the meeting, cleared his throat, completely unaware of my thoughts, waited then said, “We found him.”
I nodded and waited. They waited.
“We know who did it,” he said, watching us.
I still nodded. I still couldn’t say anything. From the corner of my eye, I knew Cliff was having as much trouble as I was – wondering what their next words would be. Our minds were racing in a million directions.
They were waiting for a response.
I just couldn’t ask “who” – and trigger the “you.” And then they would look at Cliff and take him away - falsely accuse him again.
They were waiting….
“Are you sure?” I said finally.
I looked at each one of them separately. They all nodded. It was easy to tell that they were all united.
I still didn’t know how to move the conversation along, to hide our own fears and still release them to tell us more.
Finally, I thought of the perfect question. “Do we know him?”
“No, you don’t.” they said.
“Are you sure we don’t know him?” feeling the first wave of relief.
“Yes – we are sure. You don’t know him.”
“Are you sure?”
He leaned slightly forward. “And I just want to let you know… it isn’t anyone known to your family.”
The supervisor who was sitting beside me repeated, “It isn’t anyone you know.”
“No one we know,” I said in disbelief.
Maybe we were on safe ground?
They must have said it a dozen times in different ways before I was convinced this wasn’t some kind of trick.
“Aren’t you relieved?”
We nodded. Our poor, traumatized minds could not absorb it. It was hard to erase 22 years of careful solid defenses in one second.
The rest of the visit is a bit of a blur - I think we were able then to convey our gratitude for their initiative, their hard work and their thoughtfulness. I hope we did.
But after they left -- Cliff and I completely exhausted - looked at each other and and howled with laughter. We just laughed and laughed at our craziness - our crazy concussed minds.
After that we would always laugh at the words, "... bottled water."
There is certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one's position, and be bruised in a new place. - Washington Irving