The coroner told him that a gunshot into the mouth didn’t make as big a splatter as an external head shot, but the blast had killed him all the same, so who’d care if Tom took the goddamn sweater he found in a far corner of the room? Suicide, not murder—that much was clear, and if a rich rock star killed himself in the spare bedroom above his garage, he wouldn’t miss it too much, would he? Getting it out to his car wouldn’t be difficult. Pick up the cardigan with latex gloves, slip it into an evidence bag, and then fail to catalogue the item in his report. With so many other cops on the scene, no one would notice, and while that might be risky, after the hell his divorce had put him through over the past year, all he cared about was his daughter’s affection. In that chair, her hero was dead, and the news would crush her. But if she had a piece of him, some remembrance, she might not take it too hard. She might speak to him again.
The official reason for the separation was “Irreconcilable Differences,” which meant he loved alcohol more than he loved his wife, and she wanted to screw other men more than she wanted to screw him. Part of the final settlement, aside from the ridiculous alimony, was that their thirteen-year-old daughter Sabrina spent one weekend each month at his apartment, and in the first two visits, she refused to do more than issue guttural tones. He couldn’t tell if she was upset with the divorce, or in particular, with him—his experience with young women, including his daughter, was inadequate to the point where he would have preferred a son—and whenever he asked, all she did was shrug. She watched television or read in the spare bedroom, and her attitude was too much like an inmate’s for comfort. He was tempted to shake her, tell her to wake up, since the whole time she was at his apartment, the now deceased rock star’s music blasted behind a closed door, but he wasn’t a brute, no matter what his wife said, and doing this would drive her further away. All he wanted was a bit of respect, and his anger wasn’t so much because he didn’t like the band as he read her attitude as a big “Fuck You!” reminiscent of being on the job. He had enough disrespect from the people he tried to help in his working hours, and he didn’t need more from what was left of his family.
In the late-1970s, his favorite rock band had been Led Zeppelin, and he understood what his daughter would go through when she found out that this man Cobain had died. Even though Zeppelin had recorded more records than Nirvana, when John Bonham (the greatest drummer of all time) died in 1980 (not a shotgun, but a drug overdose, asphyxiation on his own vomit), he wasn’t as upset by the loss of a man as he was by the idea that he’d never hear a new Zeppelin record. After all, In Through The Out Door hadn’t been bad—“Fool in the Rain” was no “Ramble On,” but it was still a solid song, and for all he knew, his daughter might have been conceived while he and Cheryl listened to “All of My Love”—but nothing matched the raw intensity of those first four albums. Maybe he’d tell her how he reacted to the news of Bonham’s passing, and that would give them something to talk about. But then again, he drank a half-pint of Jack Daniels and listened to Houses of the Holy, and at thirteen, she didn’t have that option. He just hoped she didn’t cry. Listening to loud music and ignoring him was better than tears.
As he drove home with the sweater in his backseat, he wondered how a girl of nine who worshipped a bunch of benign pretty boys called New Kids on the Block became a thirteen-year-old who was infatuated with a suicidal musician. Was that the type of man he could soon expect her to bring home? Greasy-haired, unshaven with ripped jeans and thrift store cardigans? The thought made him shudder, but he’d learned when dating her mother in high school that the more a father disapproved of his daughter’s choices, the more rebellious she’d become.
He parked beneath the streetlight outside his apartment building and tucked the evidence bag under his arm. He had to pick up Sabrina from her mom’s the next morning, and it wasn’t smart to swipe the sweater only to leave it in the car and risk having it stolen. He couldn’t afford to live in a neighborhood like Denny-Blaine, but a single gunshot blast and the package he held were proof that despite their money, things weren’t perfect for the people who lived there either. He unlocked the door, threw the evidence bag on an easy chair, popped a beer from the fridge, and fell asleep on the foldout sofa while watching TV.
The sweater he’d stolen was light brown with a thin crimson line running around the neckline and thick cherry wood buttons, and when he took it out the next morning, it reeked of cigarette smoke and there was a small red spot on the bottom left-hand side. Is that blood? he thought. But the trajectory was wrong. If the gun was pointed into his mouth, and the sweater was on the other side of the room…No, it couldn’t be. But he felt like the Warren Commission ignoring the Zapruder film. He brought the fabric close to his face and examined it, careful not to touch the stain. If it was blood, it would have dried, and true to form, it had crusted over. I should wash it, he thought, but when he glanced at the clock, he realized he was late. The laudro-mat was two blocks away, and while washing it would take twenty-five minutes, he couldn’t put it in the dryer. He threw it back into the evidence bag and jogged down to his car. He’d have to gauge her mood and decide how receptive she’d be.
When he met Cheryl in high school, he was the type of guy that took shop classes and worked on his car, and even though she proclaimed she liked bad boys, she confused his being poor with being bad. He wore simple jeans and plain white or black tee-shirts because he couldn’t afford nicer clothes; his mom had stayed at home to raise him and three other kids while his dad worked in a factory; and he had a part-time job washing dishes in a nursing home kitchen to help them get by. Sure, he smoked an occasional joint and got drunk on Friday and Saturday nights with his buddies, but that was as far as his deviant behavior went. Cheryl, on the other hand, came from moderate wealth, since her father owned four grocery stores and was planning to set up a fifth, and she was used to money. She was also smoking hot back then—five-seven, with fiery red hair, pale but healthy skin, long legs, and c-cup breasts—and he was willing to promise anything to get her into the sack. The problem was that he didn’t have any career prospects. He fell in love with a pretty face and killer body, not with her personality, and if they got married, he didn’t have a clue how he’d support her. Police work wasn’t what she had in mind for her husband, and yet, when he followed this path, he was well-suited to the job. His mind was logical and clear, and this brought home a paycheck. What he didn’t expect was how much she’d object to his being a cop.
These days Cheryl still lived in the nice house on the nice street that they had once shared, and while he lived in a slum, each month he handed her a check for alimony and child support to ensure she could maintain the standard of living she was used to. He pulled up next to the oak tree in front of her place, and saw Tad’s car in the driveway. Tad, the new guy…the guy she’d been screwing before they were legally divorced. Every time he saw Tad’s canary yellow SUV he was tempted to run a key along the side and ruin the paintjob before reminding himself that he was a cop and should stay on the right side of the law. Cheryl had turned on the sprinklers, as if she planned to honor his presence with wet pants, and he had to dodge their streams on his way up the front walk. The neighborhood was so pleasant that brick red and forest green were the dominant colors, trees were thriving and lush, kids rode their bikes on the street without worrying much about being hit or abducted, and this made him wary of taking Sabrina to his stuffy apartment.
“C’mon in,” Tad answered, and led him into the kitchen where his ex-wife was standing by the counter drinking coffee.
“How’s it going,” he said in his best attempt to be civil, but he didn’t like this douchebag answering the door to a house he used to live in and was still partially paying for. Tad shrugged while Cheryl replied, “You’re daughter hasn’t slept a wink. She’s been up all night bawling her eyes out…”
To the outside observer, this might have been avoiding his initial pleasantries, but he recognized it as a guilt trip for not being there for their daughter day in, day out. You were the one who asked me to leave, he thought, but they’d been through that argument before, and he brushed the quip away. Besides, he had something that might make their little girl feel a lot better. He sat down at the kitchen table, and neither Tad nor Cheryl offered him coffee.
“She’ll be down in a minute…”
According to his worldview, there were three types of alcoholics. The first type got increasingly angry proportionate with the number of drinks imbibed; the second grew increasingly loving; while the third was swayed by the various emotions of people he encountered while drunk. Of these, he was the third, and when he and Cheryl were dating, whiskey helped him proclaim his love. Under the influence, he bought her flowers and composed love notes filled with song lyrics that reminded him of her; he held her and whispered the most affectionate lines his limited imagination was capable of; but when their relationship soured, and she started to cheat, it made him violent. One night near the end after he came home from the bar earlier than expected and found Tad’s SUV pulling out of the driveway. Sabrina was spending the night with a friend, and Cheryl hadn’t the sense to conduct her affairs in a motel room.
He parked his car, went inside, and though he heard the shower upstairs running, he sat in the living room recliner to have another beer. He didn’t know who Tad was, and he’d never seen that car before, but he hadn’t become a good detective by being unobservant, and all the old adultery clichés, like phone calls with no one at the other end of the line, applied in this situation. He was dozing as she entered the room, but at the sound of her footsteps, he woke and said:
“He drop by to make a deposit?”
“The guy I saw pulling out of our driveway. Did he drop by to make a deposit?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
“That’s a good one. You don’t know.”
He stood, and though he never hit her, his lumbering presence forced her back against the wall.
“You’re a fucking cunt, you know that?”
He’d regret those words later, but he didn’t expect that Sabrina, after a fight with her best friend, would be home before morning. She stood in the arch between the living and dining rooms, watching her father hurl obscenities in the uncompromising manner that only a cop, accustomed to interrogation rooms, could muster. When she screamed, he left the house, and for the next two and a half months, he laid off the liquor in an effort to make it up to them, control his temper. Not long after the incident, Cheryl filed for divorce, and since then, he hadn’t felt worthy of taking interest in another woman.
He was glad to get back to the car, opened the door for his daughter, but she didn’t say thank you or curtsy like she did when she was little. She didn’t call him dad anymore either, but referred to him as Tom. She was wearing a shirt commemorating her favorite band’s third album In Utero that showed a female angel’s anatomical mannequin; her eyes were puffy and red; and her hair, which obscured her face, was unwashed.
“How are ya doin’, sweetie?”
“I hate myself, and I want to die…”
He hadn’t expected such an extreme response, and this confirmed his resolve to give her the sweater.
“I have a present that might cheer you up…” He reached into the back seat and pulled Kurt Cobain’s cardigan out of the evidence bag. “This is for you.”
“What is it?”
“I was on the scene last night. And that’s one of his sweaters.”
This took a moment to register.
“What? You took it?”
At first he thought she was smiling.
“Yeah, I took it for you.”
She was quiet, examining the fabric.
“But it wasn’t yours to take. This belongs to his wife and daughter. You took something that didn’t belong to you from a crime scene, from a suicide. Do you know how fucked up that is?”
He was dumbfounded.
“I thought you’d want it…something to remember him by. I did it for you …” but she didn’t look at him. She found the small spot of dried blood near the bottom.
“Is that blood? Is that blood, you asshole?” She threw it in his face. “Christ, you’re fucked up! I hope you get fired!” She got out of the car and slammed the door. He didn’t try to follow but sat staring at the empty seat. He couldn’t understand what he’d done to deserve this. He put his ass on the line to give her some memento, and his spirits sank when he realized she hated him. She really hated his guts.
Outside, birds were chirping in the trees, and a kid who probably didn’t hate his dad rode past on a big wheel. He put the car in drive and pulled out.
Fuck it, he thought, I’ll head to the bar, and before he reached the corner, he turned the radio to his favorite classic rock station. At least one thing went right today, and as he turned off the street, he sang along with Robert Plant: “Alimony, alimony, payin’ your bills, livin’, lovin’, she’s just a woman!”