Habits


By Mark Joslyn



"I wasn't even in Kansas City last Friday."

Dustin had spent the last half hour fine-tuning his delivery. He rolled the words over his tongue one by one, tasting each syllable, making sure they were perfect in all details; inflection, volume, length. Over and over again, until those words falling from his lips was as natural and effortless as letting out a breath.

"I wasn't even in Kansas City last Friday."

Stringing the words together with the right tone had been the trickiest part. Too defensive and it would seem he was hiding something, too quiet and they would think they could break him. But at the same time, he couldn't seem too dismissive, too casual, or it would appear he didn't care that she was dead.

No, the response had to be delivered naturally, backed by a deep desire to help, and tinged with just enough breathlessness so that they could see he was still baffled by this tragedy. Dustin knew he had flubbed it when the detective first arrived at his door and asked him to come to the station for some questions. He had said it too quickly, and without much prompting. Dustin figured the cop would let that go once, writing it off as shock, but he couldn't do it again.

Dustin stared at the chipped, cream-colored walls of the interrogation room, and whispered his masterpiece to them once more.

"I wasn't even in Kansas City last Friday".

And who was there to argue? His drive down to catch the Royals playing the Tigers had been spur of the moment. He hadn't invited anyone else along or told anyone he was going. He was only twenty minutes outside the city, so he hadn't needed to stop for gas or go through the tolls. He hadn't even made it to Kauffman Stadium to buy his ticket before his...detour.

If only he hadn't checked Facebook on his phone on his way in. And if only Karen would have stopped with all the damn posts.

"Having a blast with my new man!"

"There is nothing better than being with someone who really gets you."

"Seeing a horror movie. Excuse to cuddle!"

Not to mention all the movie quotes, song lyrics, and pictures of the two of them mauling each other that she was always putting up. His friends had told him to just spend less time on Facebook. Why should he? She was the one who didn't have the decency to unfriend him. Besides, there wasn't any harm in looking. Not to him anyway.

It was the one she had posted right before he pulled into the park that had done it.

"Soooooo tired from hitting Cancun with the BF. Lol. Looking forward to night alone with a book."

Shoving her new little fling right in his face and announcing she was going to be home alone? What did the little idiot think was going to happen?

After waiting another ten minutes, the detective who had picked up Dustin entered the room, an overly stuffed manila folder under his arm and a cigarette dangling from his lips. He took the seat across from Dustin and spilled his papers on the table. The detective was easily in his fifties with a grey-and-white beard and thinning hair. The rimless reading glasses he put on after he sat down dulled the intimidation of his badge.

"Sorry about the wait."

Dustin tried not to stare at the stinking ember as it bobbed up and down whenever the detective spoke. Who the hell smoked anymore?

"That's alright, Detective..." With all his rehearsing, Dustin had completely forgotten the name of the man who would be his audience.

"Chaz." He said, not looking up from the papers he was shuffling in front of him on the table.

"Detective...Chaz" Dustin repeated, not being able to hide how strange the name tasted.

Chaz looked up with a small smile. "It's actually Detective 'something-long-and-Polish', so I just shorten it to make it easier on everybody. Like I said, sorry to keep you waiting, had to sort a few things out."

"That's fine." Dustin replied. And he meant it, too. None of what had happened so far had shaken him. Tracking down the ex-boyfriend, bringing him to the station, letting him stew for nearly an hour; he watched TV. He knew what was happening. They were just going through the motions. They didn't really have a clue.

"So," Chaz began, stubbing on out his cigarette on the underside of the table and poising his pen over a notepad, "Tell me about your relationship with Karen."

Dustin took a breath and went though the motions of someone composing himself; swallowing hard, nodding slightly and clasping his hands together. When he was properly in character he began the tale of Karen and him. He flashed a bittersweet smile as he recounted meeting her in the coffee shop and their first date in the park. He seemed absolutely lost in a dream when he spoke of the blissful year they had spent together before things turned sour. Then, he let his voice crack and stammer as he remembered how it came to be that he couldn't trust her, how she was always going out without telling him, flirting behind his back or texting someone he'd never heard of. Then there were the kinds of clothes she wore, and the kind of company she started keeping. Dustin did all he could to put the word "slut" in the air, short of actually saying it aloud.

"In the end," Dustin said, shaking his head at the sheer heartbreak of it all, "I just had to call it quits. It was like she was self-destructing and I couldn't stand being there to watch it happen."

His conclusion drew an odd look from Chaz, who thumbed through a few of his notes and said "Really? I spoke to a few of your mutual friends, they told me she broke up with you."

"Well, I'm sure that's how Karen told it."

Chaz gave a bit of a knowing smile "They also said you were having a hard time letting go."

Dustin couldn't believe his friends had been so stupid. Didn't they realize that would make him look like a suspect?

Dustin couldn't hide the annoyance on his face, but he figured that was fine. After all, it was obvious what this man was tastelessly implying, that he was some sort of obsessed stalker who had snapped and killed her. What innocent man wouldn't be annoyed by that?

"Look, detective, I don't know —"

"When was the last time you saw Karen?"

Damn. He hadn't thought of that.

"I guess...maybe a month ago."

Chaz tapped his chin and that's when Dustin noticed he hadn't been writing on his pad for a while now. "You sure? I only ask because, well, there was a neighbor who could have sworn she saw someone who looked an awful lot like you around Karen's apartment building that night."

Showtime.

"I wasn't even in Kansas City last Friday."

"Right, you said that before." Chaz said as he pulled out his pack of Camels and fired up another cigarette. This time he caught the disdain that Dustin was throwing his way.

"Oh, I'm sorry, did you want one?"

"God, no" he replied, with full contempt.

Chaz smiled "Smart boy. I've tried to give them up a million times myself, but hell...sometimes there's a lit one in my mouth before I even realize I've reached for the pack. It's just become automatic now. A reflex. You know what I mean?"

"Not really."

"Oh come on," Chaz said, "We've all got our habits don't' we?"

"Actually, I don't."

"Really?" Chaz started to flip through his notes again. "Some of your friends told me you had a bit of a Facebook problem. Always checking and updating, that sort of thing."

"Well that's hardly the same." Dustin snorted, while in his head trying to figure out which of his friends didn't know how to keep their damn mouths shut. "I mean, it's not like Facebook ever hurt anyone."

Chaz laughed, "You know, that's what my niece keeps telling me. She says I should get a profile, that it's a great way to keep in touch with people and there's nothing to be scared of. But hey, us older guys and technology right?"

Christ, Dustin did not want to listen to this fossil's spiel about how old-timers like him didn't trust those new fangled machines. Next it would be stories about the good old days, and vinyl and when the Dodgers played in Brooklyn and all the other crap people over 50 couldn't shut up about.

"In fact," Chaz said, digging through his folder, "I actually had to call my niece for her help in getting online and finding your profile."

"Wait," Dustin said, suddenly far more interested, "Why were you looking up my profile?"

Chaz didn't respond until he had found what he was looking for. "Hm? Oh, just a bit of a hunch I had about you."

Chaz removed a piece of paper from the folder and slid it across the table to Dustin, who stared down at it. It was a printout of his profile page and Dustin's eyes went wide when he saw the bright yellow highlight. It was his status from the previous Friday.

"Partying in KC tonight. Go Royals!"

Dustin's eyes were still saucers as he looked back up. Chaz's cigarette holding lips curled into a smile as he extended his pack of Camels.

"Change your mind about that smoke?"


Mark Joslyn is an attorney in Illinois.


Copyright 2012 Mark Joslyn. 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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