by Elle Fredine
The sing-song, question-and-answer rhythm of an old, childhood skipping game dribbled through Amanda’s mind, the faint slap, slap, slap of a jump-rope on schoolyard pavement keeping time with the words…
Zing, zang, zoom, a little heart goes ‘Boom!’
Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?
“Was it you, Number two?”
“Mrs. Rogers? Mrs. Rogers, can you tell us what happened this evening?”
Amanda blinked. What do they want, now? At least the reading of the long list of charges against her, a monotonous drone of legalese, had finally, mercifully ended.
She raised her head and focused on the two detectives sitting across from her.
The men, one middle-aged, balding and kindly, the other with a pinch-lipped, skeptical, ‘just-the-facts-ma’am’ kind of face, lounged in their chairs. Well, the kindly one lounged. ‘Just-the-facts-ma’am’ didn’t look like he ever relaxed.
Amanda thought they probably made a great team, playing ‘good cop — bad cop’ off each other. Just now, though, they both were staring at her.
For one awful moment, Amanda was afraid she’d been chanting the rhyme out loud. Then she realized they were waiting for her to say something. “I’m sorry, would you repeat the question, please?”
“Can you tell us what happened, Mrs. Rogers? With you and your husband.” the kindly one asked. The skeptical-looking one thumbed through a stack of papers in a manila folder.
Amanda reached up to brush a strand of dark hair out of her eyes. At least, she tried to.
Cold steel bit into her wrists with a metallic jangle. She stared at the chains tethering her to the metal table.
Amanda frowned at the sleeve of the unfamiliar jumpsuit she wore. She ran a tentative finger over the papery fabric.
She froze, stared at her hands, turned them over. They were smeared with sticky, reddish, viscous stuff, dried and caked under her nails. Blood? Why were her hands covered in blood?
Then she remembered.
She remembered shivering in the center of the cell as the camera flash blinded her again and again.
“Turn to your left, please.” “Your right.” “Face me, please.” “Arms out to the side, please.” “Hands in front, please.” The voice flat, impersonal.
She remembered standing on the sheet of paper while they swabbed her hands, her face. Inside her mouth. Combed through her hair.
She remembered removing her blood-stained clothing. Watching as each piece was folded with meticulous care and placed in a brown paper bag. Each bag labeled with a black felt pen.
Finally, it was over. Someone handed her a white coverall. A zip-front paper jumpsuit with elastic at the wrists and ankles. Too big. Not at all warm. but something to cover her body.
She remembered… something… almost — no. It was gone…
Amanda realized the detectives were still waiting for an answer. “My husband? I don’t… I don’t understand.”
She looked at her hands, wondering whose blood it was. She looked at the detectives. “Has he been hurt?”
The men gazed back, silent.
Amanda’s heart gave a frantic jerk. It started to pound, faster and faster. Her temples throbbed. “Has something happened to Arthur?”
Black spots danced before her eyes.
Amanda struggled to rise. “Arthur? Arthur! Where’s my husband? What have you done with him? Arthur?”
The bright lights buzzed and flared. A high-pitched keening filled the room. The two men blurred. Faded.
She was a dying leaf… fluttering gently to the earth…
Hands tried to grab her, to cushion her fall.
Her head hit the edge of the table with a sharp crack. Velvet darkness rushed towards her. Swallowed her. Then, there was nothing.
“Shit. Now, look what you’ve done.” Martin Forbes glowered at the mess.
Newspapers, receipts, photocopied bank records, witness statements, the contents of his file lay everywhere, scattered during the dramatic collapse of their suspect and their mad leap to catch her.
Several of the newspapers lay face up. One headline screamed, “Chocolate Chip Magnate Murdered.” Another bemoaned the dead husband’s ‘scandalous affair’, trumpeting, “Cookie King Killed — Perfect Marriage Half-Baked: Crumbles Like Bad Batch of Cookies.”
Forbes stuffed it all back in his folder and glared at the blood-splattered face of the woman slumped against his partner, half in Tanner’s arms, half on the floor.
“What I’ve done?” Detective Tanner shook his head. “Gimme a hand, for Chrissakes.”
Between them, he and Forbes lifted the unconscious woman into her chair and laid her head on top of her folded arms.
“She’s out cold, Martin. Better call the paramedics.”
Forbes stuck his head out the door of the interrogation room and yelled.
A few minutes later, Amanda Rogers, the cookie king’s widow, was on her way to the nearest emergency room, handcuffed to her stretcher.
And, moments after that, Forbes and Tanner faced their captain across the same interrogation room table.
Harper, resplendent in a navy three-piece that would’ve cost either detective a month’s salary, perched on the edge of the metal table, one well-shod foot swinging. He poked through the file.
Forbes rubbed his pen along the side of his jaw. It rasped against his five-o-clock shadow. “So, she did it. We just have to dot the ‘I’s and cross all the ‘T’s.”
Tanner nodded. “Gotta make sure the case is airtight, Cap.”
“Well?” Terse at the best of times, when he was annoyed, Captain Harper became monosyllabic.
“Well, we know her husband had his hand in the corporate cookie jar, so to speak.”
Forbes snickered. Tanner glared at him before continuing.
“Sorry, Cap. Rogers also cleaned out their joint accounts and her trust fund, then transferred everything to an offshore holding company.” Tanner paused.
Forbes flicked a glance at his partner. “Speaking of ‘hands in the cookie jar’, boss, Rogers had two tickets to the Maldives in his jacket and three suitcases in the trunk of his Porsche. Not his wife’s luggage.”
“And?” Harper still wasn’t happy. The foot swung faster.
“And the name on the other ticket matches the I.D. on the second victim. Miss Ariel Cooke, age twenty-two. Arthur Rogers’ executive assistant,” Tanner said.
“And we found Mrs. Rogers at the scene, covered in blood, still holding the weapon she’d used to kill them both,” Forbes added.
Harper sighed. “It’s confirmed?”
More than one word. Good. Tanner relaxed, but only a bit. He consulted his notes.
“Coroner says hers were the only fingerprints on the murder weapon. Small nicks on her hands, her DNA on the broken pieces. Both victims’ blood was all over her, all over the scene. Looks like she arrived home and caught them leaving. Means. Motive, Opportunity.”
“My God, who’d have thought Amanda Rogers capable of this? She and my wife serve — served — on the boards of the same charities, for God’s sake.” Harper shook his head. “I’m not looking forward to telling the mayor.”
“Paper’s are having a field day, Cap.” Tanner flashed one of the headlines. “Chocolate Chip King Caught With Hand in Assistant’s Cookie Jar,” the detective quoted. “And that’s one of the milder ones.”
“Well, keep a lid on it best you can.” With that, Captain Harper strode out of the room, shoulders squared, no doubt on his way to brief the mayor.
Forbes looked at his partner. “Keep a lid on it?” His mouth twitched.
Tanner scowled. “Don’t you dare…”
“Don’t I dare what?” Forbes lean face was innocence personified.
“Don’t you dare say, ‘That’s the way the cookie crumbles.’ After the day we’ve had…”
“After the day we’ve had, we deserve a beer. Maybe two.” As his partner headed out, Forbes picked up the file and looked around the empty room.
A table, chairs, a door. Aside from a one-way glass window, nothing special.
He marveled for the umpteenth time how an ordinary-seeming person could end up in this ordinary-seeming room, sitting across the table from him and his partner. All because they’d done something no one would’ve thought they were capable of doing.
His mind flashed to the scene at the cookie magnate’s palatial mansion. Amanda Rogers drenched in blood, her antique cookie jar shattered on the kitchen floor. Bright, heavy, hand-painted ceramic, with cheerful, yellow sunflowers.
The heavy, ceramic cookie jar she’d smashed down on her husband’s head, caving in his skull.
In one hand, she held the curved, razor-sharp shard she’d used to hack the life from her husband’s mistress.
A cookie jar.
Symbol of home, of family, of loving hands creating sweet treats — golden, childhood memories.
He shook his head and switched off the lights.
Martin Forbes knew, as long as he lived, he’d never look at a cookie jar in quite the same way.
Originally featured in The Weekly Knob, October 5, 2019