House of Ghosts - By Lawrence S. Kaplan
WESTFIELD, NJ AUGUST 2000
JOSEPH ARTHUR HENDERSON limped into the kitchen of the tomb-quiet center hall colonial. It was near noon. He wouldn’t have forced himself off the couch in the den if it weren’t for the sledgehammer pounding his skull right behind the eyes. The couch had taken the place of his bed, using the stairs to the second floor killed his leg as the rationale, but had none for turning off the phones or closing the blinds during the day.
The renovated workspace was the product of the trembling hands searching through the “junk” drawer next to the stove. The headaches weren’t new. This one was worse than the others. Joe was sure the envelope with the last of the Percocet was in a plastic sugar bowl he brought back from Disney World when Emily was six. He guarded the two tablets as if they were the keys to eternal bliss, to be used for an emergency when the pain management specialist wouldn’t authorize more refills. The bastard said he’d have to learn to deal with it, and with the rehabilitation program the leg would get better. It didn’t and he stopped going.
With the help of a couple of buddies in the Department, the tired sixty-year old dwelling was ripped up a room at a time. A cop and his teacher wife never could have purchased a house in the exclusive Wychwood section of town if the place wasn’t one step away from being condemned.
With a hundred thousand dollars won in the lottery and the profit made from the sale of their starter Cape on the other side of town, the nervous couple signed the purchase agreement. “It’s a great deal and it’s the northside of Westfield,” the shark real estate agent told her prey as she tried to justify the obscene price. “The northside always commands the dollars.” The small New Jersey town, twenty-six miles south of Manhattan and an easy commute across the Hudson River to the caverns of Wall Street, had exploded with the NASDAQ made, pie-in-the-sky money of the 1990s. Yuppies overpaid for the right to tear down existing structures to build their McMansions.
Rosa must have moved it. With his heart racing, Joe opened the cabinet where the glasses were kept. Mickey’s face smirked back. He felt the coin envelope for his salvation, popped one of the white tablets into his mouth and chewed it as a piece of candy. Gagging on the acid chunks, he took a swig of coffee brewed the previous morning from a mug emblazoned with University of Arizona. The curdled cream added to the putrid taste occupying his mouth. He poured the remnants of the mug into the sink and shook his head, watching the thick goo seep between the rubber nibs of the garbage disposal. The symbolism was clear—his life was sliding down the drain and he didn’t give a damn.
At forty-nine, things were supposed to be different. The kid was going off to college and the time alone with Elaine, unencumbered with the demands of a hormone raging teenager, would provide the zip to rekindle a flagging relationship. He needed a couple more years with the Westfield P.D. and then he’d tell his chief of police to go to hell. At twenty-five years, his rank of detective lieutenant would provide enough for a comfortable retirement. It would be their time for some fun.
Then a bullet blew away bone and muscle a few inches below his right knee. Surgeons contemplated amputation before agreeing to reconstruction using titanium rods and a new vascular procedure to restore blood flow. The surgery left him with a permanent disability, incessant pain, and a wife who didn’t understand how he ever got involved with the FBI in their attempt to catch a homicidal maniac.
Joe crossed the ten by ten space avoiding a stained glass Tiffany lamp swaged from the ceiling and settled into a white upholstered captain’s chair. He propped his leg on a footstool kept in the kitchen for that purpose.
Resting his head against the wall, he waited for the Class II narcotic to take effect. Dr. Headcase, the psychologist his wife forced him to see, said he had traumatic stress disorder. Zoloft would help the depression. Joe laughed at hearing the diagnosis. Getting shot wasn’t anything he hadn’t experienced before. The Yale Ph.D. blanched when Joe showed him the scar on his chest from a Vietcong’s AK-47 round. Joe, in his own estimation, was a complete screw up pure and simple.
A mad dash