Matching Pair

By Regina Clarke

The wind blew open the shop door. Trenner swore under his breath and went to close it, while the woman at the counter continued to stare at the row of rings displayed under the glass.

"This one," she said to him when he came back and stood in front of her.

"Yes, a good choice," he agreed, and took out the tray to remove the small sapphire.

"And that one, too, please."

For a moment the man hesitated. "That's a wedding ring. I usually sell them as part of a matching set." The woman looked at him and smiled politely.

"I'm aware of that," she said softly, "but I only want the one."

"Certainly," he responded, annoyed, taking out the sapphire and a single gold band and placing them in a dark blue velvet box. To his surprise she handed him cash for her purchases.

"I prefer completed transactions," the woman said, reading his look. "Nothing lingers, that way." At the door she fumbled a moment with her umbrella — rain had come in with the wind. Then she was gone.

Trenner watched her cross the street. She walked with sharp little steps, the same way his wife had always done. He shook his head and replaced the trays under the counter.

He'd been at 14 George Street for six years, and still felt the same satisfaction every time he surveyed his shop. Not a bad alternative for early retirement. More hours, sure, but he would never again have to sit down in a gray cubicle and follow someone else's orders. In his small shop he met all kinds of people, and no two days were the same. Forty-seven and a contented man, that's what he told old friends who stopped by, and they agreed that he looked the part.

When he opened the newspaper the next morning he headed straight for the sports page, as usual. He almost missed the small headline, tucked away at the back of the local section. But there she was. In the photo, one they'd gotten from her mother, it said, her hair was tied back, and she was smiling and looked so much younger, so that he wondered at first, for a fraction of a second. But no, it was her. Strangled by parties unknown. He sighed and went on to read the results of the playoff from the night before, a live game that they'd televised too early for him to catch.

In the late afternoon, just when he was about to close up, the steel grate pulled halfway across the front window, the shop door opened. He glanced at the two men who walked in, one on the short side with wild, gray hair and one much younger, tall, dressed in an expensive suit.

"Mr. Trenner — Michael Trenner? Good. I'm Lieutenant Parish — Maker Parish — Puritan name if there ever was one, eh? More's the pity." The older man showed identification. "That's Detective Sergeant Halliwell," he added, indicating the second man who had begun to wander slowly around, studying the gemstones laid out in the cases. "We're just checking all the jewelry shops in the area. Do you recognize these?"

For a moment Trenner stared at the lieutenant, and then looked at the rings the lieutenant held up in a plastic evidence bag. He gave a quick nod.

"Thought you guys might come around. I saw her in the paper. Though it doesn't do to get involved if you can help it, I say."

"We hear that a lot. Hey, Sapir." The other man stopped moving through the store and came over to them.

"When I'm interviewing anyone, here's what you need to do. First, listen to what they say. Second, write down every word. Third, pay attention to detail. Fourth, and last, and most importantly, listen to what your instincts are telling you."

"Detective Sergeant Halliwell is learning the ropes," Parish said. Halliwell nodded and smiled in agreement. "He's used to how they do things in L.A. Very relaxed system. Like the movies. Not the same as New York, I keep reminding him. I'm letting him help out in this investigation, and he might have a few questions of his own later on, if you don't mind."

"Glad to help." Trenner looked again at the plastic bag.

"You're married?" Parish asked.

Trenner stared at him. "Not anymore." On his left hand a gold band shone in the pale sunlight slanting through the window. "Hard to let go of a memory sometimes," he added, seeing Parish notice it.

"How about giving us what you can — when you saw her, what she did, who she was with, that sort — just whatever you remember." Parish said calmly, ready to listen, while the sergeant dutifully held a pencil and notebook in his hands.

"It was just yesterday so it's not likely I'd forget. It was just her. She picked out the rings. Brand new. I set them myself on the weekend, getting ready for the June rush. That is, I set the sapphire she wanted. The wedding band she bought...well, I keep them in pairs, but she only wanted the one ring." Trenner stopped, looking over at Sergeant Halliwell, who was busy writing. "Don't you use those little voice recorders, or something? It'd be a lot easier, wouldn't it?"

"I have my own kind of shorthand. Helps me remember things better," the sergeant answered, still writing. His voice was pure, smooth California, a contrast to the dented Brooklyn sounds Parish made.

"Myself, I'd use a cassette player," Parish said. "But that's showing my age. They give me a hard time about that at the station, how I can't make heads or tails of all the new digital devices. No hope for me there." The lieutenant gave a self-effacing laugh as he leaned over the counter, looking down into the lighted display.

"Great stuff you have here," he offered, admiringly.

"Those are rhinestones and zircon," Trenner responded, his disdain hovering just slightly over the words.

"Ah! Good to know. I could get something nice for my wife, and she'd never be able to tell!"

"Probably not," Trenner said, and he got up impatiently from the chair behind the counter. "I was about to close for the day."

"Well, we've taken up your time, haven't we." Lieutenant Parish turned and walked over to the shop door. "Okay, Sapir, he's all yours."

A moment later, Trenner felt the handcuffs on his wrists as the sergeant began to read him his rights, guiding him out the door that Parish held open for them.

"You're nuts!" he shouted at them both. "What the hell are you doing?"

People slowed their steps outside. Children on skateboards zipped through the collecting throng to speed past the officers. Detective Sergeant Halliwell pushed Trenner gently into the patrol car at the curb and began to call in a report. After dispersing the crowd, Parish made certain the steel grate that protected the shop was locked and got into the front passenger seat.

Trenner stared moodily out the window. It was getting near to dark, and it was raining again. He didn't say a word while the sergeant drove them to the station and Parish debated out loud just how large a zircon he might be able to afford for his wife.

"Trouble is," he said, turning around to face Trenner through the grid, "I don't think it'd fool her. She's a sharp one, my Mary."

An hour later Detective Sergeant Halliwell joined the lieutenant for a drink before they each headed home.

"So?" Parish drew a question mark in the air as he lifted his glass. He was smiling.

"You like to be right," Halliwell suggested.

"Let's just say, I take winning seriously." His broad features were all lit up, it seemed to Halliwell, like a glow from inside.

"What made you so sure?" Halliwell took a sip of his single malt.

"You mean apart from the fact he was her ex? I wasn't. Not until I saw him. It'd take a big man like him to strangle someone her size. She was at least five foot ten, right? And athletic. He had a couple of scratches on his hands, which for my money came from the cutting edge of a sapphire stone when she fought back. We saw the defensive wounds on her. Still, you know that stuff wasn't enough."

"No. It was the wedding ring..."

"Foolish, you know, how people do the very thing that will finish them off. Somehow he couldn't help himself. Maybe he hoped a rookie would come in (Halliwell looked up from his drink at that) and wouldn't notice the one he wore. Or maybe he was so sure of himself it didn't even occur to him to worry about it..."

"How long had they been divorced?"

"According to her mother, four years. He had to know we'd be aware of that, but it didn't seem to trouble him. A cool number. I wonder if she told him why she only needed the one ring. Interesting that — her fiance being Jewish and so he wouldn't be likely to wear a ring at all. Thanks for mentioning that, by the way. I didn't know the custom. A nice piece to fit in."

"The credit goes to my mother-in-law's next-door neighbor. So she can't help herself, she has to go to Trenner, dig it in that she's getting married again, and buy the wedding ring from him. Seems odd she didn't bring the fiancé along as well. I'm surprised he was willing to sell anything to her." Halliwell finished his scotch.

"Maybe he was, too. It had to take him off guard, her showing up out of the blue like that. Maybe right then and there was when he got the idea to finish her off, or maybe it'd been at the back of his mind a long time and she just gave him the right opening. And then he puts its match on his own ring finger after he kills her. Or before. Dark, that." Parish drained his glass and pulled on his coat. "Till death us do part," he recited.

"Of course," he added, "a good lawyer will probably get him off, given lawyers have no moral venue to speak of, as we well know. Probably get the jury to say there's reasonable doubt, that it's all circumstantial. Efficient police work isn't always rewarded."

"I don't think it was a premeditated thing," said Halliwell. "He had a good reason, in his mind, and let it carry him away in the moment."

"Sapir, my wife says you're the best-looking man on the force. I don't see it myself, but she's probably a better judge. Still, you have a tendency to trust people, and it bears looking into. There's just no reason to commit murder. See you in the morning."

Regina Clarke's stories have appeared in Subtle Fiction, Halfway Down the Stairs, Fried Fiction, Mad Scientist Journal, Bewildering Stories, Thrice Fiction, and Kzine (U.K.). "Persistence Can Be Fatal" appeared in omdb! in December, 2012.

She lives in the beautiful Hudson River Valley of upstate New York.

Copyright © 2014 Regina Clarke. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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