A Girl Solves a Mystery

Ruth Joffre

Case #: 004 a.k.a. Is Papá Really Working Late?
Principal Investigator: Imelda Gutiérrez
Case Status: Closed

Case Summary

Investigator was tipped off on the night of June 3 by suspect’s surprise announcement that he had to “get back to the office” to “work late” even though Mamá had prepared his favorite (arroz con mariscos) and his job (as a mid-level administrator at a water & power utility) had never required after-hours work before, except in the case of natural disaster, such as a flood. The weather being 75° and sunny at 6:45 PM, his statement was deemed suspicious but not wholly outside the realm of possibility. Investigations did not commence until suspect used this excuse a second night in a row without further elaboration—at which point this investigator threw a graphing calculator into a backpack and proclaimed she was going to Ximena’s to work on algebra homework so that she might follow suspect on her bike and begin gathering evidence. Investigator quickly realized that suspect was not, in fact, returning to work, but was, instead, stopping at a convenience store for a pack of cigarettes and a box of condoms on the way to meet his mistress at her condo—a duplex. Three nights surveillance was enough to secure photos of the two of them together, as well as the name of the woman (Patricia) and her profession (as a customer service representative at the very same utility where suspect has worked the last eleven years). This evidence has been collated and presented to investigator’s mother.

Investigative Notes

June 4, 9:42 PM

Suspect has entered the domicile of a woman who greeted him at the door with a lingering hug—investigator notes, hopefully, that the two did not kiss. But there is little doubt, at this hour, what is happening behind closed doors.

June 5, 7:47 PM

Suspect seemed especially eager to “get back to work” after dinner this evening. So much so that when he picked up his keys with a little extra pep in his step Mamá gave him a look like, cabrón, you is lying to me—but she let him go anyway. This investigator wonders why.

June 7, 1:22 AM

Last night being Friday, this investigator was able to convince her mother that she was going to a sleepover at Ximena’s when in fact she was conducting a stakeout at Patricia’s condo in hopes of securing photographic proof of the affair. Such evidence was secured by hiding in the bushes just to the right of the duplex’s front door and waiting for Patricia to answer. Again, the two deceitful lovers entered into a lingering embrace. Closer inspection of the photo, however, revealed that he had not moved to kiss her neck or grab her ass but had instead buried his face in her shoulder, his features contorted, as if succumbing to a sob. A lamp has remained lit in the living room window ever since, and just now the suspect stumbled onto the porch, beer bottle in hand, looking like the life had been sucked from his body through his cheeks, leaving him hollow, sickly. He coughed a miserable wad of phlegm and smoked cigarette after cigarette until even that lost all meaning. He looked, in that moment, like a completely different man.

June 7, 11:43 AM

In presenting Mamá with evidence of her husband’s indiscretions, this investigator was surprised to learn that her mother already knew and had known for some time. “Patricia was an old flame,” she explained, and when they started working together one thing led to another and of course she got pregnant, so Imelda’s mother presented her father with the ultimatum: “Stop seeing that bruja or I kick your ass to the curb and take your paycheck for child support.”

For ten years, that threat was enough to scare him into fidelity. “Then the kid, Simón, got hit by a car. He blamed me for keeping them apart.” This investigator remembers the sudden unexplained fights, the bitter meals conducted entirely in silence. In retrospect, this was likely the explanation for another, colder case: # 003 a.k.a Why Papá Punched a Hole in the Wall. In the quiet after that revelation, she thinks of Simón, the boy who stepped into the street, his body obscured by parked cars and trees until it wasn’t. What color would his hair have been? Brown, she thought, like hers and her father’s. Brown hair and brown eyes, and perhaps the same long legs as Papá, one day, if he had been allowed to live into his growth spurt. She imagined riding bikes with him around the neighborhood. Teaching him about right of way, stoplights, hand signals. An arm held out to one side means turn. An open palm means stop. A pointed finger swirled at your side means there’s a road hazard here. Means: Simón, be careful. Your father loves you.

Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Nightmare, Pleiades, khōréō, The Florida Review Online, Wigleaf, Baffling Magazine, and the anthologies Best Microfiction 2021 2022Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness, and Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest.  Follow her on Twitter at @ruth_joffre.

Photo by David Malan/Getty Images

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