Guilty Mind 

Irene Marcuse June, 2001

I was a happily married woman, necking on the stoop with my husband like we had on our first date. Then, I�d gone in alone with the afterburn of Benno�s one long kiss still making its way from my lips downward. Tonight we kept on kissing in the elevator.

When we got out on the 12th floor, I wiped at the lipstick I�d left on his mouth, so the baby-sitter wouldn�t see. Not that Ellen would have noticed; she�d fallen asleep to the lullaby of turned-down-low MTV. She sat up and rubbed her eyes.

"Everything okay?" I asked, pausing with my hand on the knob of Clea's door.

"You know she�s always good, Anita," Ellen answered. "I hope you don�t mind, she wanted me to do her hair. I took the cornrows out and put them back the same way, and I had some new beads from the Harlem market, so I let her choose some of those."

"You mean she wanted to watch some television," Benno said.

I didn�t care about that; Ellen would have let her watch anyway. That�s what baby-sitters are for, to let seven-year-olds watch what parents might not. But braiding Clea�s hair had saved me two hours of my Sunday afternoon, and I appreciated it. "Did she hold still?"

"Still enough. My sister�s squirmier. I liked doing your pattern, Anita. It�s very unique."

Since I�m white � and didn�t grow up doing cornrows � I don�t have a repertoire of braid patterns to fall back on. I invent my own, overlapping diagonals that suit Clea�s little head.

"The cornrows look so cute on Clea � I wanted to ask you � when my hair gets long enough, will you do me?" Ellen patted her short Afro and gave me a tentative smile.

Ellen was style-conscious enough to know that any African braider on 125th Street could do as good a job, if not a better one, than I could, but I read a peace offering in her request. "I�d be honored to do your hair, Ellen." I smiled back, glad that she was willing to let the recent tension between us go. "Whenever you�re ready!"

I checked the clock � 12:22, so we owed her for six hours. Benno took his wallet out, and I nodded yes to an extra ten. Doing Clea�s hair took Ellen half the time it would have taken me.

Ellen shrugged on her backpack. Benno opened the door for her.

"Do we need anything besides the paper?" he asked. "Breakfast?"

"No, I�ve got that covered." Croissants, and fresh oranges to squeeze for mimosas � we were celebrating.

"See you Monday at six?" Ellen said.

"Yes, thanks again, Ellen." I blew Benno a kiss and locked the door behind them.

Ellen had graduated from Barnard two weeks ago and moved from her dorm to grad student housing. Although the stretch of Broadway between us on 111th and Ellen's new building on 113th was well populated, Benno always walked Ellen home if we got in after midnight. It would take him ten, maybe fifteen minutes with getting the Sunday Times.

Long enough for me to change into a pale green silk chemise, light a candle, put some Coltrane on the CD player, pour two Metaxas and get into bed. We don�t do this kind of romantic very often. When you�re closing in on 50 and you�ve got a day job and a child in private school in New York City, it�s hard to stay awake long enough.

As it turned out, that night I didn�t. The last thing I remembered was waking up to check the time, 1:14, and thinking Benno should�ve been back by then. I tried to wonder what he was up to, but sleep pulled me down again.

When Benno slid in next to me and leaned over to blow out the candle, the red numbers had climbed to 1:56. I opened my mouth to ask where he�d been but he covered my lips with his and ran his hand up inside my thigh with the kind of urgency that sent my conscious mind somewhere beyond time.

After that I slept like I was drugged, which in a way I was. I�m not a drinker, and I�d started the night with champagne and ended it with brandy. Somewhere along with the sun, Clea came in. I was vaguely aware of Benno discussing time with her in terms of how long until 9:00am when she was authorized to watch television.

The morning air was chilly and I pulled the quilt up over my head. A cool hand slid up the curve of my hip, under my arm and found a breast. I stretched onto my back so the hand could make its way down my stomach.

"Is the door locked?"

"Oh yeah," Benno breathed into my ear.

I kept my eyes closed. We hadn�t done it in the morning in years. If this was Benno�s idea of scratching the seven-year itch, I was in favor.

His breathing turned soft and even. I let him sleep and got up to squeeze oranges. Clea was ensconced on the couch with a bagel and her baby quilt, mesmerized by Reading Rainbow.

A huge bunch of lilacs spilled the scent of late May from my grandmother�s cut glass vase on the table; Benno must�ve made a trip down to the all-night Korean market on 103rd for flowers.

I put the orange juice in the fridge and got into the shower, counting myself a happy woman.


Chapter One

I was just hanging up the phone at 3:30 on Monday afternoon when Clea poked her head into my cubicle at work.

"Hey Bopster." I opened my arms and she climbed into my lap. "Where�s Ellen?"

"I don�t know. She didn�t come get me so Ms. Simms watched me walk over here by myself to tell you."

My job at Senior Services, on the grounds of the Cathedral at Saint John the Divine, didn�t pay all that well but it had good fringe benefits. The one I appreciated most was the Cathedral school, two buildings away from my office. It made me feel secure, knowing Clea was so close.

"Ellen said I could see her new room," Clea whined. "And I hurried up and finished this so she could have a place to keep her pencils!"

She held up a drinking glass that had been papered with scraps of rainbow-colored tissue glued down with a shiny glaze of some sort. I sighed. "Well, let me give her a call. Maybe she got tied up registering at work."

Actually, I was worried. Ellen had been picking Clea up on Mondays all year; it wasn�t like her not to call if she�d be delayed. I dialed Ellen's new number and got her machine on the second ring, which meant she wasn�t in her room and probably hadn�t been for a while. I left a message.

"Tell you what," I said to Clea. "I have a little more to do here. You have homework?"

She nodded.

"I�ll set you up in the conference room and when I�m done, we can stop by Ellen's on the way home and you can leave your housewarming present for her if she�s still not there."

May is New York at its best. The days are warm without the humidity of summer and everything is in bloom. Clea held my hand, humming to herself as we walked past the Canon�s lawn with its wild border of columbine and tulips. The community garden on the corner of 111th and Amsterdam had beds of iris blooming purple and yellow.

"Dad said she has her own bathroom." Clea pulled my hand to make me walk faster. "And the bookcase they found is bigger than me!"

May is also graduation month, which means lots of students moving out, which makes it the best time for �dumpster diving�, the traditional New York way to furnish a first apartment. When Benno had escorted Ellen home Saturday night, they�d found an abandoned bookcase on the street and carried it up to her room. The bookcase was a bit rickety, so Benno put the starter tool box we�d given Ellen for graduation to good use and stabilized it for her.

Benno's a cabinetmaker by trade, and tools, in his opinion, are essential to every independent young woman. When Ellen moved from the dorm to her own room-with-bath in grad student housing, we�d given her the basics: hammer, crescent wrench, screw drivers, tape measure, hand saw, drill, nails, screws, and other miscellaneous hardware. If she�d been a man, I would have seen that she had what every independent young man needs: a toilet brush, cleanser, sponges, broom and dustpan, detergent, an iron and ironing board.

We crossed Broadway at 113th Street and climbed the four steps to Ellen's new building. The front door was propped open while the Super, a Pakistani man in a blue Columbia uniform and matching turban, made conversation with the mailman in the lobby. I found Ellen's name and room number, 7D, on the directory. The elevator doors parted and a skinny girl with fuschia hair and two rings in her left eyebrow got out.

"Promise me you�ll never pierce your face!" I whispered to Clea. "But if you want purple hair, I�ll understand."

"Yuck," Clea said. "One time I saw a man with a safety pin in his cheek."

The 7th floor hallway was shadowy and cool. The walls were a smooth, pale cream, the doors black enamel. A faint thump of bass vibrations rippled toward us. I knocked on Ellen's door. Clea added her knuckles. There was no response.

"Shall we leave the pencil jar in front of her door? I�ll write her a note and we can put it in the jar." I rummaged in my purse for a pen.

"If we leave it in the hall, mama, someone might steal it," Clea objected. She kept on pounding at the door, a staccato rap, rap, rap, in time to the bass beat.

A door across the hall opened. The petite girl who came out reminded me of myself at a younger, slimmer age. She wore jeans and a baggy gray t-shirt with the neck cut out so it hung off one shoulder. Her hair was thick, curly, uncontrollable � but without the gray that so liberally streaked through mine.

"Hey, Clea," she said. "Are you looking for Ellen?"

Clea nodded and held up her creation for the girl to see. "I made this for Ellen to keep her pens and pencils in."

"I see you two know each other. I�m Anita Servi, Clea�s mother." Because I�m white and Clea's black, people frequently don�t connect us as mother and daughter. To avoid later awkwardness, I�ve gotten in the habit of announcing the relationship up front.

"It�s nice to meet you. My name is Miranda Washburn." She stuck out a hand and we shook.

"Do you by any chance know where Ellen is? I was expecting her to pick Clea up this afternoon after school."

Miranda frowned. "I think she went somewhere for the weekend. If she�s not answering, she�s probably not back yet."

"Are you sure? She baby-sat for us Saturday and she didn�t call to say she couldn�t get Clea. I can�t imagine that Ellen would have gone away without letting me know."

"I�m not positive, but I�m pretty sure she wasn�t here yesterday or today. There�s only one kitchen on the floor, and I haven�t seen any sign of her being here since Saturday morning, so I figured she took off for the weekend again."

I told myself there were any number of logical reasons why Miranda hadn�t seen her, like Ellen spent Sunday night with her boyfriend, or she�d overslept and ran out without breakfast. But forget about Clea? Something was not right.

Clea bumped my hip with her shoulder and held up the present for Ellen.

"We were just going to leave this in front of her door, but Clea's worried someone might take it. You don�t think so, do you?" I appealed to Miranda.

"A beautiful object like that, I can see that you don�t want to take any chances. I have her key if you�d like to go in and leave it on her desk."

"That�s a good plan," Clea said, "and then we could see the bookcase dad found!"

Miranda disappeared into her room. I might have stopped her to object that maybe she shouldn�t be opening Ellen's door for whoever wanted in, harmless though we might seem, but in the circumstances I had to admit I�d be glad of the opportunity to check out Ellen's room.

In my job, when someone hasn�t been heard from in several days � well, it�s every elderly person�s nightmare, dying in her apartment and not being found for days or weeks. More than once, I�ve unlocked a door and found a client on the floor. Of course, I didn�t expect to find Ellen in her room, but I had a dread of not knowing. At least if she wasn�t there and I didn�t hear from her by evening, I could call her mother, report her missing.

"You know, it�s a good thing we exchanged keys. The Super has extras, but he told everybody we should leave one with a neighbor because he has to charge us if we get locked out. And don�t you know I did, last week? I mean, I was just going to the kitchen to get a soda and I forgot that the door would lock behind me. Ellen having my key saved me $10.00!" She held out a ring with a neon green alligator and a single key attached to it.

I unlocked Ellen's door and pushed it open. From the doorway I could see that the shades were drawn, leaving the room in semi-darkness. The square silhouette of a computer monitor was visible on a desk in front of the window. Clea hung back, not wanting to go in until I�d turned on a light.

There was a funny smell in the room, sweat and stale air, the ammonia reek of urine and something like the sweetish odor of rotting food, a smell that made me draw back instead of going in.

I kept my hand on the door and turned to Miranda. She�d been willing to trust me; I�d have to do the same with her. "Would you take Clea to your room for a minute? I think Ellen might be sleeping. I�ll just go in and see."

Miranda, god bless her, picked up on the tone in my voice and didn�t ask questions. She took Clea�s hand. "Come on, honey, I�ll show you my virtual fish."

I stood in the doorway of Ellen's room, letting my eyes adjust to the semi-darkness. A large wooden bookcase stood against the wall opposite the window, with a pile of cardboard cartons on the floor in front of it. The hall light cast my reflection in the mirror on the half-open bathroom door. I stepped into the room. The weight of the door swung it closed behind me.

A blinking red light on the bedside table indicated that Ellen had several messages. I switched on the lamp by the answering machine. In the halo of yellow light I could see that Ellen had the blankets pulled over her head. I had had enough experience with death to be afraid of the motionless shape in the bed.

I didn�t want to touch her, but I held my breath and reached for a corner of the blanket. I gave a gentle tug and got more than I bargained for. Ellen's whole body rolled over with the covers, a rag doll with blood caked around her mouth, blood dried on her gray t-shirt, and the handle of a screwdriver sticking out of her chest.

I made it to the bathroom and sent my lunch down the drain. It was worse than my worst fears � in her own bed in her own room, stabbed to death with a screwdriver. I turned the cold-water tap on full, splashed my face and rinsed out my mouth.

For all my worrying beforehand, I�m usually competent in a crisis. I turned the water off and looked up. The eyes that looked back at me from the mirror over the basin knew what to do.

This is a crime scene. I held onto the words like they could ward off evil. I went back over to the bed, closed my eyes and crossed myself, whispering the skewed version of a Hail Mary I learned from my lapsed-Catholic mother. "Hail Mary, Mother Goddess, pray for us now and at the hour of our death, Amen."

I made the 911 call from Miranda�s room, with Clea on my lap. She and Miranda had taken the news with a stunned silence. I went for the phone without giving them time to ask questions; hearing the facts again would help it to sink in.

When I hung up, Clea said, "Mama, Ellen's not dead. She�s not old enough to be dead."

For a seven-year-old, Clea�s had quite a few encounters with death. I work with the elderly, and she�s accompanied me to several memorial services and, once, an open-casket wake. Those experiences, however, were with death as it should be, the natural conclusion to a long life. This death was something else entirely, sudden, violent, unexpected; it had come to someone Clea saw almost every day, someone she loved. Acceptance would not be easy.

"Maybe you made a mistake?" Miranda chimed in.

Clea headed for the door. "I�m going to wake her up!"

"No, you�re not." I grabbed her arm and pulled her back to my lap. Miranda started to cry. I had tears in my eyes, too, and I let them fall into Clea�s hair as she struggled to get out of my embrace.

When I wouldn�t let go, Clea went limp and started sobbing. "No, no, no, mama, Ellen's not dead!"

Miranda joined us on the bed and handed me a tissue. I wiped my eyes. We exchanged a brief look over Clea's head. Miranda�s face was white and pinched. When I put a hand on her knee, she grabbed it and held on.

One thing about children, they focus your mind. I forced my brain to register the objects in Miranda�s room while I got a grip.

Miranda had her furniture situation more in hand than Ellen had. Metal shelving lined two walls, already filled with books. The double bed we were sitting on took up most of the floor space and appeared to function as an extension of the closet � half of it was covered with a mound of clothing that ran heavily to black. A virtual aquarium of tropical fish swam across the computer on the desk, their brilliant yellow stripes and rippling fins as unreal to me as Ellen's body in her bed.

I caught myself wondering if Miranda might need a part-time job. I know it sounds terrible, but baby-sitters are hard to find, and shock does funny things to your mind. I shook the thought away, appalled, and stroked Clea's back until she quieted.

When we heard voices in the hall, I lifted Clea gently from my lap and wiped her face. "I�d better go out and talk to the police. You stay here with Miranda, okay? I�ll be right back."

Miranda slid over next to Clea on the bed and reached under her pillow to pull out a bedraggled stuffed leopard. "Would you like to meet Booney?" she asked.

I picked up the neon alligator with Ellen's key attached to it and went into the hall. Two uniform cops, a short white guy and a shorter Hispanic woman, were knocking on Ellen's door. I handed the key to the female officer, who unlocked the door and went in. She was back in seconds, on her radio, calling it in as a homicide.

I was telling my story to the white guy when I heard a voice behind me.

"Hey, Social Worker, long time no see." It was Michael Dougherty, the only cop I have a high opinion of. Michael�s a good-looking man, in his late thirties, tall, what my grandmother used to call �black Irish� � fair skin, black hair, and green eyes that at the moment were full of concern. I took in the fact that rather than his uniform, Michael was wearing a gray suit with a wild blue, magenta, and black tie. It was an enormous relief to realize his promotion to detective and his appearance on the scene meant he�d be in charge of the investigation.

"Anne told me you�ve come up in the world," I said. I�ve known Michael since he was on foot patrol, when I inadvertently introduced him to his current paramour, Anne Reisen, the administrative assistant at my agency.

"Hard to believe they actually rewarded brains for a change, huh?" Michael put an arm across my shoulders and gave a quick squeeze. "So, you want to tell me what�s up?"

I went over it again, expecting Ellen to pick Clea up, finding her body, the last time I saw her.

"Tough luck," he muttered. "I hate it when young women get themselves killed."

"You sound like it was her fault!"

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, that�s not what I meant. You and Anne, you carry this women�s lib stuff a little too far." Michael shook his head, exasperated. "Before I talk to this kid across the hall, you mind taking a look at her again to see if she�s still wearing the same things she had on Saturday night? She�s been dead awhile and we�ll need all the info we can get to pinpoint time of death."

The last thing I wanted was to walk back into that room, but I did it. Someone had pulled up the shade and opened the window. It didn�t do much to ease the smell. Ellen's body lay the way I�d left it, partially rolled over onto her back. Michael lifted a corner of the covers.

Besides the gray t-shirt, she had on navy sweatpants. The handle of the screwdriver was yellow plastic. This time my brain registered the fact that it was one of the set we�d given her for graduation, a tool intended to help her into a new stage of life.

I stood there with my hands pressed against my chest, trying to hold onto a time before this had happened. I couldn�t bear to look at Ellen. I glanced up at the wall over her bed, at the tape scars where a former occupant�s poster had hung, then across to the bookcase. It was about five feet tall, three feet wide, dark-stained wood with a solid back. Three shelves had already been filled with books. Black Boy, by Richard Wright; Makes Me Want to Holler, Nathan McCall; Beloved, and the rest of Toni Morrison. My eyes filled.

"Anita?" Michael said. "Anything?"

I was totally unable to conjure up an image of what Ellen had been wearing. "Maybe. She could have been. I don�t know, I don�t remember."

Michael put his hands on my shoulders, turned me around and guided me out of the room. I leaned my forehead against the wall and let the tears run while I took long slow breaths. The cops let me be, until a white handkerchief was pushed into my hands. I remembered where I was, that Clea was waiting for me. I blew my nose.

"It�s okay, Anita. Since your husband actually saw her after you did, we�ll get the information from him. I�ll stop by your place later to talk to him."

"Can�t you just call him at the shop instead? I don�t want Clea to hear any more about this than she has to."

"We�re gonna need to see him, but I guess a phone call�ll do for starters. What�s the number?" Michael wrote it down, then knocked on Miranda�s door.

Booney the leopard was carrying on a conversation with a koala bear on the bed. I let Clea introduce me to the animals while Miranda told Michael she�d slept past noon on Saturday, spent the evening with friends in Brooklyn and stayed overnight; got home around two on Sunday, went to the library, came home and cooked herself dinner, watched some TV, went to bed, got up this morning at eight for a nine o�clock class and hadn�t seen Ellen since Friday night.

Although she was way too big for me to carry, I hoisted Clea up backpack and all and settled her on my hip. Ellen's door was wide open. Clea took a quick peek then buried her head in my shoulder.

"Take her home, Anita," Michael said. "I�ll see you later."

I was only too glad to go.

We were waiting for the elevator when a young man�s breezy voice came out of Ellen's room. "Ellen? Hey, I know you�re sitting tonight, but if you want to grab a beer at Canon�s afterwards, I�ll be there until about one."

Clea squirmed in my arms. "That�s Jamie!"

I put her down and raised my eyebrows in a question. "He used to be Ellen's boyfriend but she doesn�t like him anymore."

Clea would have gone on, but I held a finger to my lips to shush her.

There was silence followed by a long beep � someone hanging up.

Then a woman�s voice, low and urgent: "Ellen, I stopped by to see you this morning but you weren�t home. I�m free tonight and we need to talk. Please call me."

"No, Bopster, that�s just someone listening to the messages on Ellen's answering machine."

The clicks, followed by silence and the long beeps of two hang-ups.

The young man�s voice again. "Ellen? Are you there? So you didn�t want to have a beer last night, how about supper? I reserved a table at your favorite restaurant, Chez Chinese Delivered. Be there at eight or the Moo Goo Gai Pan will be cold and congealed." Pause. Click, the machine disconnecting.

Another hang up. A young woman�s voice. "Ellen, this is Aisha. You want to catch a movie tonight? Call me."

The young man, worried this time, and trying to make light of it. "Ellen? It�s 10:30, in case you forgot you have a day job now." There was a pause before the beep of the machine put an end to his message.

The next message was from me. I sounded like a stranger on the tape, a distracted woman with equal measures of irritation and concern in her voice. Three final beeps sounded after my voice.

The elevator doors opened and we got in. "How come you think Ellen didn�t like Jamie anymore?" I asked.

"I don�t know but I think he must have did something bad because she wouldn�t tell me. Her face got all mad when we saw him on the street and she wouldn�t talk to him."

"Must have done something bad." A mother is a mother. "Maybe they just had a fight." Clea could be pretty perceptive when it came to relationships. She had her finger on the shifting dynamics of her second grade class � who were the teacher�s favorites, who was a nerd, the �top boy� and �top girl�. Although I�m the one in the family with a social work degree, my interests lie with changing the system rather than changing people through therapy. Benno's the one who dropped out of a master�s program in psychology to work with wood, and the one who gets into long conversations with Clea, analyzing and examining why people behave the way they do.

"Also because Jamie�s white and Ellen says white men are the oh-presser." Clea stopped and stamped her foot for emphasis.

"Ellen said that?" I knew Ellen's views on race were evolving; in her senior year, she�d added a minor in Pan-African Studies to her Economics major. But what a thing to say to Clea, when the father who was raising her was white!

"Mama, what�s an oh-presser?" Clea tugged my hand.

"Oppressor. It�s someone who uses power to take advantage of other people, someone who presses down on people, like back in slave times, the white slave owners were oppressors."

"Jamie doesn�t have slaves."

How do you explain institutionalized racism to a seven-year-old?

"No one has slaves. Ellen meant that Jamie�s part of a system that once benefited from the labor of slaves, and that as a white person he has certain advantages in the world just because of the color of his skin."

It�s a fine line, talking about the history of race relations, protecting a child from what she has yet to encounter while preparing her for the time she inevitably will.

I was glad the walk home was so short.

Our apartment has always felt to me like a safe harbor, perched on the top floor of the building, with a view out over the Hudson. Unlocking the door this time, the place seemed empty, desolate.

The phone rang just as I was closing the door. It was Benno. Michael had asked him to stop by Ellen's building to get his version of what had happened Saturday night.

"Do we need anything?" Benno asked.

"Breakfast," I answered. "I didn�t think about stopping at the store."

"Are you two okay?"

"We�re all right, just come home."

"I�m leaving now. I�ll be there as soon as I can."

I hung up the phone and sat on the couch. Clea climbed into my lap. I stroked her head, my hand lingering on the neat cornrows Ellen had done.

"Ellen did a good job on your hair," I said.

"I�m never taking these braids out," Clea said, fiercely.

I felt tears start up again. "You can keep them in as long as you want."

We sat there until the clock chimed six and nudged me back to reality.

In times of sorrow, I�ve found, the best you can do is cling to routine and wait for the sadness to lift. I got Clea to help me make meatloaf for supper. It was therapeutic for both of us. Under cover of chopping onions, I had a really good cry. Clea worked her feelings out by squeezing egg and breadcrumbs into the chopped meat then pounding it with her fists until it had the consistency of pureed baby food.

Grief has stages, and I was hoping Clea had moved from denial to anger. I didn�t realize how long she�d stay mad before moving on.

Neither one of us was the least interested in the food when it came out of the oven. We were pushing sweet potatoes and mush drenched in ketchup around on our plates when the phone rang.

"Anita, it�s Michael."

"Where�s Benno?" I said.

"He just left, he�ll be there in a few minutes.

The tightness in his voice reminded me that Michael was a cop before he was a friend. I put my guard up.

"Can you tell me what time he got back from seeing Ellen home Saturday night?"

The red numbers, 1:56, flashed a caution in my mind�s eye. "We got in just after midnight, I�m sure of that because we paid Ellen for six hours. On the way to Ellen's, he said they found a bookcase on the street and he helped her carry it in and got it set up for her. Then he went to 103rd for flowers, it was our seventh anniversary we were celebrating, then he bought a paper and came home. I was asleep when he got in."

"Did Ellen eat at your house? If she did, I need to know what she had and what time it was."

"I left out some cheese raviolis and sauce for Ellen to heat up. Hang on, I�ll check with Clea." I held the phone to my chest and put a hand on Clea's arm. "Bopster, what time did you eat supper the night Ellen sat for you?"

Clea ducked her head and looked up at me apprehensively.

"It�s okay, I won�t be mad."

"She let me watch Xena while I ate."

I smiled and patted her arm reassuringly. I have no problem with Xena as a kick-ass female role model for Clea, but to Benno the show is dreck.

"They watched Xena, Warrior Princess, so that would make it eight o�clock," I told Michael.

"Thanks, Anita. One more question: Was Benno having an affair with Ellen?" Michael said it like he was asking where Benno worked, or what he�d eaten for breakfast.

I was stunned. The possibility had never crossed my mind, not once. I couldn�t even begin to imagine that he would have, or Ellen, either. "No," I said. "Benno�s not that kind of man, not to mention he�s old enough to be her father!"

Of course, as soon as I said it I realized how stupid it was. Michael pounced. "You hesitated before you answered. Are you sure he wasn�t spicing things up with the baby-sitter?"

"I�m positive. Besides, what about Ellen's boyfriend? We overheard you playing the messages on Ellen's machine and Clea recognized his voice."

"Now you tell me! So what�s this clown�s name?"

"I was going to call you later, I can�t for the life of me remember his last name, but his first is Jamie. He�s a teacher in the ESL, English as a Second Language, Institute in Riverside Church, where Ellen worked. Clea said Ellen broke up with him, not that you could tell from the messages he left."

"Yeah, he sounded pretty friendly for a dumped lover. Thanks, Anita. We�ll look into it. Now tell me again, what time exactly did Benno get home on Saturday night?"

This time I didn�t miss a beat. "I don�t know, exactly. I was too occupied with other things to be noticing the clock."