MAYBE by S. Frederic Liss
HE SMOOTHED THE POCKET SQUARE in the breast pocket of his suit coat and tugged on his shirt sleeves revealing a quarter inch of white and his cuff links—sprigs of parsley dipped in gold—as he descended in the elevator to the lobby of his building. He was on the way to his third date with Darci Lippincott, dinner and the ballet, same as the first two. Watching the floor numbers light up, then go dark, he felt the strain of the day dissolve. Ballet was his one sure safety valve from the pressure and stress of work. His tolerance for the emotional neediness of others—his ability to fake a sympathetic tone of voice, his empathetic reactions—was depleting at an accelerating rate. Where he once shepherded callers through their crises for six to eight hour shifts, he now struggled to last three or four. Soon it would be one or two. Then, burnout, and he would be placing the calls rather than receiving them; begging for rescue rather than offering it.
It had been a day of domestic abuse calls. They rose as the economy spiraled downward and the unemployment rate and number of foreclosures and debt collection cases skyrocketed. At first, his inability to help these callers depressed him. But over time his emotions had hardened. To paraphrase T. S. Eliot: he had heard it all already. The callers— mostly women, occasionally the elderly, rarely a man— didn’t seek help in escaping their relationships. They only wanted to know when it would get better, when their husband or lover would revert back to the dream they fell in love with, a dream they refused to accept was false. Get a grip, he wished he could tell them. It never will improve. End it. Flee. But, such life-saving advice violated Puqwn Network protocols, which required him to exude sympathy and be supportive in a vague, amorphous way, to keep the mark talking as the clock ticked and the charges mounted.
As the elevator approached the lobby, he straightened his shoulders and complimented himself for the way his pocket square matched his tie, both Italian silk knock offs of a famous designer so accurate the trademark police did not recognize them as fakes. He felt human again, a gentleman ready to charm. Tonight, he would invite Darci to return to his condo for a nightcap. If she accepted, if intimacy occurred, it would be a natural outcome of the evening; if not, there would be a fourth date, a fifth, a sixth, and, he hoped, many, many more. He had booked an extra scrubbing from the cleaning service and his unit was sparkling. It was a clear night and the view, Central Park to the east, the river and the Palisades to the west, the glow of Times Square downtown, New York’s skyline at eye level, would impress, as would the new moon illuminating the terrace. What he did not anticipate was the pair of homicide detectives waiting for him in the lobby.
“Mr. Low. I’m Detective Angelo Livramento.” His eyes had a roadmap of red lines. A gold shield hung from the breast pocket of his sport jacket, a madras plaid out of style by one or two generations, but properly fitted— not tight in the shoulders, not bulging at the waist; not rumpled or coffee stained like it would be on a mediocre television show. The reflection of the lobby ceiling lights off Livramento’s shaved head created a halo effect. Livramento introduced his partner, Detective Michelle Bressler.
She wore black slacks and a white blouse which could have been mistaken for a man’s dress shirt if one glanced too quickly. A golden hoop in the style of a single handcuff dangled from each ear. She wore her hair in a buzz cut like a Marine recruit processed for basic training, perhaps a redhead, but her hair wasn’t long enough for him to be certain. She had a ballerina’s figure, long, willowy, with disappearing hips and understated breasts. Her shield shared a lanyard around her neck with a bullet casing, perhaps the one with her name on it.
“May we ask you a few questions?” Detective Livramento said.
He smiled and infused his voice with a touch of friendliness. “I’m running late.”
“Won’t take but a minute.” Detective Bressler said. She had a soothing voice, kind, comforting, a voice that would be reassuring to a toddler achy with teething molars or to a repeat caller to the Puqwn Network. He was sensitive to voices, their nuances, the secrets they betrayed about the speaker. In his line of work, to succeed, he had to be. “This is a non-custodial interview,” she said. “You’re not required to talk to us. You’re not under arrest and you can leave whenever you want, but we’d greatly appreciate it if you’d take a minute to voluntarily answer a few questions.”
“Is that what passes for a Miranda warning these days?” He asked.
“Voluntarily,” Detective Livramento echoed. “No need to Miranda someone who isn’t in custody. And you’re not.” He eyed their clothing for the hidden microphone. Livramento probably wore the wire. Bressler was not fleshy enough to conceal it. He had not been asked to consent in advance to being taped so it could not be used as evidence, but it could be used to cross examine him if he later lied under oath about this conversation. He picked up this nugget from an attorney he once dated, a handful of dates before her prattle about her court triumphs had so bored him he refused an invitation to return to her apartment for a drink. He didn’t indulge in hearsay sex.
“Do you know this woman?” Detective Bressler showed him a photo of a woman holding a polo mallet astride a horse. Her hair flared out beneath her helmet and shawled around her shoulders. Protective padding broadened her thighs and plumped up her legs.
“Nice Arabian,” he said.
“Caucasian,” Detective Livramento replied.
“I meant the horse.” He felt he was on the wrong end of a two-on-one tag team wrestling match. “No. Never seen her before.”
“Would it improve your memory if I told you one of her aliases was Porcia Catonis?” Detective Bressler asked. Her voice now hinted desperation, something he recognized from his work. He sensed she would arrest him if it were her call, plant him in an interrogation room, play mind games. Her buzz cut made him wonder if she had experience with waterboarding.
“One of her aliases? How many did she have?” He figured they wouldn’t be questioning him if Porcia Catonis weren’t dead, if they hadn’t found the Puqwn Network’s phone number in her address book or among her papers, if they hadn’t contacted the Network to find out who she spoke to, if the Network hadn’t fingered him. Playing dumb would be misinterpreted as a sign of guilt. The truth was simple. It would set him free. “Our contact was strictly by telephone. Twice. The first time five, maybe six weeks ago. The second some two weeks later.”
“We have the dates,” Detective Bressler said. Her fingertips grazed the side of her head as if she were feeling for something no longer there. “What did you talk about?”
“She wanted to know if she was going to commit suicide. Not should she, but would she.”
“I don’t follow,” Detective Livramento said.
“Most suicide callers want to know if they should. After some back and forth . . ”
“To run up the tab?” Detective Bressler asked.
“After some back and forth, I refer them to a suicide hotline.”
“I thought only if they asked first,” Detective Livramento said.
What they knew about Network protocols unsettled him. He wondered if they knew as much about him. “I bend the rules when appropriate.”
“In her case you didn’t,” Detective Bressler said.
“She was very direct. She wanted me to see into the future. I explained I can’t, but she insisted. I didn’t want to say yes or no so I said ‘maybe’.”
“Why not ‘no’?” Detective Bressler asked. “Why not a simple ‘no’?”
“‘Maybe’ was a dodge. ‘Yes’ or ‘no’ implied I could tell the future.”
“In her case, I think you did,” Detective Livramento said.
“Are you familiar with the legal concept of accessory before the fact, Mr. Low?” Detective Bressler asked. “An accessory before the fact is a person who procures or advises or commands the commission of a felony but who is not present at its perpetration, someone who promotes another to commit a crime.”
“You knew she would act on your answer,” Detective Livramento said, “but you didn’t say ‘no’. Fits the definition, don’t you think?”
“Not in my dictionary,” he said.
“Try Black’s Law Dictionary.” Detective Bressler glanced at her watch. “Ten minutes. Told you it wouldn’t take long.”
Riding in a cab to Darci Lippincott’s building, his mind no longer anticipating their third evening of dinner and the ballet, he thought back to the first time he spoke with Porcia Catonis. He had been underemployed for several months when he saw a Help Wanted ad the Puqwn Network had placed in the classifieds of a tabloid a stock boy had discarded on the table in the lunchroom of the supermarket where he bagged groceries while searching for a real job. The interview had turned out to be an audition with three call backs before he satisfied the Network he was a good conversationalist who people would enjoy talking to. The set up was simple. He worked from home. He made his own hours. When he wanted to work, he logged in. Callers to the Network listened to short pre-recorded pitches of those who were available and selected one. After a few weeks of getting acclimated, he started earning good money, enough to indulge his passion, classical ballet. Enough to join the Benefactors’ Circle of contributors at New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater— his favorite ballet companies— and enough to afford real designer ties and pocket squares, though he didn’t because the fake provided all the reality he needed.
Before Porcia Catonis’s first call, he had enjoyed a pleasant evening of dinner and ballet with Darci Lippincott, a first date with an intelligent woman, a post doc researching M-Theory, an esoteric corner of theoretical physics grappling with the unification of string theories. Her evangelical belief in supersymmetry and the existence of eleven dimensions as well as parallel universes both fascinated and frightened him. Yet, for her ballet was more than a seasonal production of The Nutcracker. She knew what he meant when he said City Ballet or ABT. Names like George Balanchine and Peter Martins were not foreign to her; nor were Ashton, MacMillan, and Tudor. Her name had been prophetic, Darci McBride Lippincott, named in homage to two of Balanchine’s most accomplished ballerinas by ballet-loving parents who laughed at their friends who named their children after baseball or football stars. She regretted being too young to see Darci Kistler dance, but enthused over Patricia McBride in the Diamonds segment of Balanchine’s Jewels as well as Agon, Prodigal Son, and Symphony in C. Over a glass of red wine during the first intermission, she accepted an invitation for a second date two weeks hence when the Pacific Northwest Ballet was in the city as part of its national tour.
“What attracts you to ballet?” He asked.
“The way the best dancers defy Newton’s laws of gravity and inertia. It’s like they occupy a fissure in the universe where time and space converge and the laws of physics have been repealed. What about you? What grabs you?”
“Muscle control. Motion. The athleticism. The aesthetics. Movement in thrall to the music. Sorry for being so mundane.”
“Without the mundane, there would be no exotic.”
At the post performance champagne reception for major donors his perfect evening crashed when Darci asked, “So, Foxman, what do you do when you’re not at the ballet?”
He dreaded that question not because he objected to the canard that what you did defined who you were but because if he answered truthfully people treated him like a freak who belonged in a carnival sideshow. First dates failed to mature into second dates with depressing regularity. He needed a cover and after years with the Network he had been unable to conjure up one that worked consistently. He had tried ‘top secret’ or ‘classified’, but he was not attracted to women who melted into coital moans at the glamour of spying. He lacked the technical background to claim he was in computers or energy or worked for a defense contractor. For a time, he masqueraded as an attorney until he realized the only women who enjoyed dating attorneys were other attorneys for whom briefs were legal documents rather than form fitting underwear that quickened the heart. Being a grad student had worked for a while, but he had reached the age where women wanted men marching down a career path with solid prospects, not a perpetual student hiding from life in the ivory tower. Communications had a patina of truth about it, but bored most women as it did him.
Income was not the issue, at least not when he was good for eight hour shifts and six day workweeks. With what he had banked during the flush years, he could maintain his lifestyle working part time for three or four years. By then, perhaps, he would have regenerated his enthusiasm. Long term prospects for the Network were prosperous. It sowed a field immune to recessionary economies and double digit unemployment rates. Economic cycles did not exist; bad times were as remunerative as boom times, perhaps more remunerative.
Still, he often wondered what happened to the people he talked to. Had the victims of abuse liberated themselves or were they still being abused? Were those contemplating suicide rescued by the hotlines or did they kill themselves? How many lives had he made better? How many worse? How many people missed a rent payment or canceled a doctor’s appointment because they had squandered their money on his gibberish? How much of this was he responsible for? None, the Puqwn Network had insisted during training sessions. All, he was beginning to realize. He was kidding himself if he thought cutting back his hours would relieve his stress, extinguish the burnout. Slowly, but surely, he was becoming addicted to the suffering of others. Each phone call was a fix he could not live without. If his taste in liquor weren’t so expensive, he’d be borderline alcoholic by now. Better he should forego the ballet, relinquish his lifestyle, and use his savings to return to school, perhaps a degree in social work where he might find forgiveness and redemption.
Now, Darci eyed him through her empty champagne flute. The refraction through the glass magnified her eye to Cyclopean proportions. “I bet it’s something exotic whatever it is you do.”
“Compared to what you do nothing’s exotic. A refill?”
“You are so mysterious.”
“The better part of valor.”
“I thought that was discretion.” A waiter drifted by and Darci deposited her empty flute on his tray. “In high school when a date came to pick me up my daddy always asked him what his father did.”
“You are your father’s daughter.”
“Yes, I am.” She glanced at her watch. “Pumpkin time. I have an early morning appointment with those dimensions you don’t believe exist and I need my beauty sleep. You stay. Have another glass of champagne and dance. I’ll catch a cab.” She floated away before he could air kiss her good night.
He had returned to his condo after their first date, his and Darci’s, and had logged into the Network. He had come to dread logging in, but a job was a job and being responsible was one of his failings. He loosened his tie and the telephone rang before he had finished unknotting it, less than two minutes, a new record. “Code name Porcia Catonis,” the Network operator said.
He awakened his computer from sleep mode and entered the date, start time, and caller’s pseudonym. At the end of the call he would enter the date and stop time, then email the information to the Network for fee calculation purposes. He didn’t recall any of his callers adopting the code name Porcia Catonis before, something he confirmed by a name search. He wondered if his caller was a history buff of Rome in the era of the Republic.
“Am I going to commit suicide?” Porcia asked. No hello. No hesitancy. No shyness. No strain or stress. No betrayals of anxiety. A voice as calm and indifferent as the waiter who asked him and Darci earlier in the evening if they wished a second bottle of wine. “Am I going to commit suicide?” Porcia repeated in the same uninflected voice.
Foxman depended on the caller’s voice, the inflections, the timbre, whether the words tumbled out fast or slow, whether the enunciation was clear or garbled, to decipher what was on the caller’s mind. He also depended on accents, diction, word choice, sentence structure, pronunciation. And other more subtle signifiers such as whether the voice had been abraded by smoking. He analyzed aural clues to understand the caller and determine what he or she wanted so he could custom design the conversation. A neutral uninflected voice was the perfect disguise. Porcia’s voice rang with confidence, unaccented, nothing to hint at geographic origins, nothing to hint at race or ethnicity or nationality, or class or economic status, or level of education; a voice bleached by elocution lessons, the voice of an actor who could be from any place, from any era. The diction was formal, no slang, no contractions. A picture formed in his mind. White female. Early middle age. Self-confident. Creative, but not in the arts. Respected by her peers. Accustomed to being in control of every situation.
“Am I going to commit suicide?” Porcia asked a third time.
He had protocols to follow for suicide calls. He averaged one a week, but as the recession deepened and the economy weakened the average crept up. The first protocol was to keep the caller on the line as long as possible since the caller paid by the minute, $5.99 per on an open-ended credit card. He pocketed one-third of the first ten minutes, one half of the next ten, and two-thirds of everything after that. Plus, if the Network happened to be eavesdropping, something it randomly did for quality control, he could be penalized— ultimately, fired— for advising a caller to hang up and phone a crisis hotline. He tried not to think of the conflict of interest created by the first protocol. The second protocol was never to speak of death or dying. The third was not to offer medical advice, nothing which had the faintest whiff of counseling, nothing which might support a lawsuit by surviving family members if the caller made good the threat. The fourth protocol was only to provide a list of suicide hotlines if the caller requested them. The fifth protocol was not to go off script, not to ad lib, to say nothing the lawyers hadn’t vetted. He opened a second window on his computer and called up the list of crisis hotlines. His instincts told him to keep Porcia’s call short.
“Let me refer you to a suicide hotline,” he said.
“You are not a very good listener,” Porcia said. “I did not ask, Should I commit suicide. I asked, Am I going to commit suicide.”
“Do you want to?”
“What I want is to know my future, whatever that future may be.”
“I don’t know your future. I don’t know my future. I don’t know anyone’s future.”
“That’s not what the ad in the Yellow Pages said. ‘Your future unraveled,’ is what it promised.” She terminated the call before he could respond.
He logged out. Unable to sleep, he poured himself a glass of sipping whisky and channel surfed until he stumbled across a Woody Allen movie, one of the many in which the Woody Allen character mused on the meaninglessness of life in the face of death’s inevitability. Is that what Porcia Catonis thought? Or his other suicide callers? Suicide was a choice. Making that choice gave life meaning, something beyond the ability of Woody Allen to grasp. He would not make this choice for Porcia Catonis. It was up to her to give meaning to her life. Not him. Never him.
Now, on the way to his third date with Darci Lippincott, His cab was trapped in cross-town traffic. To calm his mind, he tried to bring order to his universe. Being indicted as an accessory before the fact for Porcia Catonis’ death posed a low risk probability to him. A competent attorney would put the deceased on trial, severing the causal connection between the phone calls and her death by portraying her as a woman so mentally unstable she consulted a telephone psychic. Her psychiatric history— he assumed she had an extensive one— would be spread before the jury like the rap sheet. A linguist or a lexicographer would testify as an expert witness to educate the jury on the meaning of ‘maybe’. A mental health professional would testify to the propriety of the Network’s protocol not to refer a caller to a suicide hot line unless the caller requested a referral. He himself would tear up when he described his telephone conversations with her to the jury. That is, if there were a trial. He doubted there would be. No matter. The one thing of value he learned from dating that attorney was trial was theater, not the search for truth but the construction of an artifice, an alternate reality designed to gull the jury.
No, what troubled him was the conviction simmering deep within his conscience that Porcia Catonis would be alive if he had made the decision for her, if he had said ‘no’ rather than ‘maybe’. In a way only another psychic would understand, his ‘maybe’ had killed her. Did he want to send her to her death but lack the courage to say ‘yes’? ‘Maybe’ was the perfect dodge.
Traffic opened up after the cab cleared a double parked delivery truck. He envied the simple life of the cabbie, nothing more to cope with than city traffic and obnoxious riders. For a dollar and a donut he’d swap places.
Time had passed slowly during the two weeks between his first and second dates with Darci Lippincott. For fourteen days and nights he lived in dread of the ringing phone, fearing it would be Porcia Catonis, but she never called and those who did fed his addiction to the suffering of others as if he were mainlining. Two weeks later, opening night of the Pacific Northwest Ballet, he and Darci met for a pre-ballet dinner at a French restaurant, La Petite Cabriole, whose chef was Michelin rated before emigrating from France to the New World in search of new challenges.
“My psychic predicted you,” Darci said when they settled in at their table.
He hid his surprise behind a smile. “It sounds like you dipped your toe into one too many dimensions. The last thing I’d expect is for a scientist like you to traffic with psychics, but, then, eleven dimensions and parallel universes don’t exactly comport with everyday experience.”
“You make it sound so . . . so astrological.”
“It’s like believing in alchemy.”
“What do you know of alchemy?”
“There is no elixir of immortality, no magic formula to turn lead into gold.”
“But there are the gifted few who can see visions of the things to be.”
“I’m sure he . . . ”
“She. Madam Nahuma of Elkoshai.”
He had never heard of Madam Nahuma of Elkoshai. .
“I’m sure she only predicted you’d meet a man,” he said. “I doubt she said when. I doubt she described him or mentioned his passion for ballet. Psychics speak in generalities so vague the likelihood of a prediction coming true is quite high. That’s the con, Darci.”
“Such a cynic.”
‘The good ones figure out what you want to hear and spoon feed it to you.”
“There is nothing inconsistent about my scientific mind and my faith in her.”
“Which of your eleven dimensions or parallel universes does she exist in?”
“The same universe, the same four dimensions, as you and I.” Darci reached across the table and covered his hand with hers. “She described you. Your hair color. Your eye color. The fact one ear is slightly higher than the other. Your asymmetrical smile. And your love of ballet. She warned me of your skepticism.”
He rotated his wrist so their hands were palm to palm.
“And, she told me what you did for a living.”
“Did she now?” He withdrew his hand. “Which is?”
The sommelier arrived and with well-rehearsed flourishes uncorked a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and poured an inch for him to sample. He inhaled the bouquet, swished it around in his wine glass, and sipped. “Bon.”
He steered the conversation away to the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the program of Director’s Choices scheduled for that evening. “I can’t wait to compare their West Side Story Suite to City Ballet’s.”
“Mopey will rocket you out of your seat,” Darci said. “I saw it at Jacob’s Pillow last summer. It’s one of those first time experiences that’s transformational.”
“Like your first conversation with Madam Nahuma of Elkoshai?”
After the performance, he put Darci in a cab, then returned to his condo. Again, his telephone rang within minutes of his logging on to the Network.
“Are you ready to answer my question,” Porcia Catonis asked.
“Where have you been the last two weeks?”
“I only call on special nights.”
“What is so special about this night?”
“You’re the psychic. You tell me.”
“What is your question again?”
“Do not play memory games with me.”
“If I say yes, will you?”
“Swallow live coals?”
“It sounds like you want me to say yes.”
“What I want is you to see visions of the things to be and answer my question.”
“Interesting phrase, visions of things to be.”
“I thought you would like it.”
“You’ve put your future in my hands where it doesn’t belong.”
“My future is my future. I’m merely asking you to reveal it.”
“The answer to your questions is ‘maybe’.”
He started monitoring the online editions of the city’s newspapers as well as those published in the surrounding suburbs seeking stories of women’s unexpected deaths whose circumstances suggested suicide rather than natural causes or foul play. There would be no corpse identified as Porcia Catonis because the Network insisted on code names for its callers to protect itself from deviant psychics who sought a more direct presence in the lives of their callers than the telephone allowed. For weeks, nothing, until the morning after Detectives Livramento and Bressler intercepted him in the lobby when a story appeared in the Rock Mills Weekly Gazette about a woman who ingested hot coals and died from third degree burns to her mouth, esophagus, and stomach. The paper’s website reproduced the same photo he had been shown by Detective Livramento. The police had found her body after neighbors complained of a foul odor emanating from her house. According to the coroner, she had been dead some seventeen or eighteen days. Foxman did the subtraction, less than a week after their last phone conversation. She had chosen death; or he had.
He felt unusually jaunty as he hailed a cab, a fourth date with Darci Lippincott, The Kirov Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House doing a full length Raymonda with the original choreography of Marius Petipa. Too often dance companies excerpted the Pas de Dix from the third act rather than present the complete ballet and he had been anticipating this performance since it was first announced months earlier. Darci had almost swooned when he invited her to join him.
“You’re late,” Darci said when the cab pulled up to her building where she waited under the awning that extended from the door to the curb. The doorman helped her into the cab. “Madam Nahuma told me you’d be late.”
“Maybe I should have a face to face with your Madam Nahuma.”
‘She’s not taking new clients.”
In silence they rode they rode through the city, no talk of Raymonda, no teasing about the eleventh dimension or the unseen parallel universes just beyond their reach. At the ballet, they sat in silence, talking less than two strangers who shared a common interest in dance. After the last curtain, after the standing ovation, he hailed her a cab, then disappeared into the subway. When he returned to his building shortly after sunrise, Detectives Livramento and Bressler awaited him sitting in an unmarked car parked opposite the front door sipping coffee from cardboard cups.
“Late night, Mr. Low?” Detective Livramento asked.
“Early morning,” he replied. “What now?”
“You’re the psychic,” Detective Bressler said. “You tell us.”
“Call the Network and request me.”
Another photo. “Know her?” Detective Livramento asked.
“Darci Lippincott. I last saw her yesterday evening. We attended the Kirov. I hailed her a cab and we went our separate ways.”
“No après dance canoodling?” Detective Bressler asked.
“Do you mind taking a ride with us, Mr. Low?” Detective Livramento asked. “We have something to show you.”
“It’s an invitation,” Detective Bressler added. “Not an order.”
“It never is with you,” he replied.
He climbed into the back of their car, grateful it was unmarked. If it had been a cruiser, he would have felt compelled to lower the window and shout ‘I’m not in custody’. In an unmarked car, no one would look twice. His comfort vanished when Detective Bressler slammed the police bubble light on the roof and hit the siren. Moments later they double-parked outside Darci Lippincott’s building. They escorted him to a dark splotch in the sidewalk. The pavement around it was freshly scrubbed.
“That’s where she landed,” Detective Livramento said. “The slider to her balcony was open so we figure she jumped.”
“Or was pushed,” Detective Bressler said. “Where were you last night?”
“Riding the subways.”
“All night?” Detective Livramento asked.
“Alone?” Detective Bressler asked.
“An alibi that can’t be corroborated,” Detective Livramento said.
“Are you suggesting I killed her?”
“The thought had crossed our minds,” Detective Bressler said.
“The overnight doorman can tell you I wasn’t here. The security cameras can verify it.”
“The overnight doorman likes to sleep on the job,” Detective Livramento said. “As for the security cameras, one unidentified person entered the building between 2 and 3 while the doorman slept. Computer enhancement didn’t help. Frankly, the cameras are too old to be of much use.”
“She left you a note.” Detective Bressler handed him a photocopy of an envelope with his name on it and a one page letter.
There is a parallel universe in which I do not do what I am about to do, in which
you did not do what you did, in which we marry and live happily ever after. See
you there. Hurry.
Your favorite ballerina.
“Suicide,” he said. “This proves it.”
“The only thing this proves,” Detective Bressler said, “is that the letter and envelope were printed on Ms. Lippincott’s printer. In fact, the document was still open on her screen. Without her signature, anyone could have created it.”
“Fingerprints?” He said.
“As unreliable as they are, we dusted,” Detective Livramento said. “We tested for DNA on the envelope’s flap. There is nothing physical to link this to the deceased.”
“Or to me, I presume,” he said.
“What did you do that you didn’t do?” Detective Livramento asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Tell Porcia Catonis ‘maybe’?” Detective Bressler suggested.
“Throw Darci Lippincott off her balcony?” Detective Livramento said.
“Am I free to go?”
“Don’t get lost in another dimension,” Detective Bressler said.
“Or slip into another universe,” Detective Livramento added.
He cabbed back to his building. To Porcia Catonis he had said ‘maybe’. Darci Lippincott he abandoned outside Lincoln Center. Now, both were dead. Suicides. Except in his eyes. Except in the eyes of two detectives who failed to arrest him only because they didn’t have enough evidence. Without a confession, they never would. He reread Darci’s note. She had invited him to join her. He was tempted, but he didn’t believe in parallel universes. His world had four dimensions, not eleven. M-branes. Vibrating strings. Supersymmetry. When had science lost touch with reality? Physicists and psychics. Almost anagrams. Close enough. What next? Call a psychic? The thought brought a smirk to his lips. Call a lawyer? A waste of money. Escape into another dimension? There were none to escape into. He closed his eyes and leaned back into the seat of the cab. A spring dug into his back. He wiggled, scratching an itch he could not reach. It felt so real.
S. FREDERIC LISS, a Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Prize sponsored by University of Georgia Press, has published or has forthcoming 46 short stories and has received numerous awards and other forms of recognition for his short fiction including The Florida Review Editor’s Award for Fiction; James Still Prize for Short Fiction sponsored by Wind; Midnight Sun Award for Fiction sponsored by Permafrost; Third prize in the Arthur Edelstein Prize for Short Fiction; Finalist for the Raymond Carver Award for Short Fiction sponsored by Carve Magazine; and Honorable Mention in the New Letters Literary Award for Fiction and the Glimmer Train June, 2014 Fiction Open. Liss has also been published in The Saturday Evening Post, The South Dakota Review, The South Carolina Review, Dogwood, The Worcester Review, and Fifth Wednesday Journal. In addition, Liss was a finalist in the Bakeless Prize Competition sponsored by Middlebury College and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Liss earned a MFA from Emerson College, Boston, MA and was the recipient of a Grant-in-Aid in Literature from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, Boston, MA where he leads a workshop in writing fiction.