When they arrived at the police station, Peighton and Kyle were led down a small hallway into a quiet room. The new officer who was with them held her arms out, ushering them into the room. There was a small desk, four chairs up against a wall, and three placed around the table.
“Make yourself comfortable, guys. Officer Nealson will be with you shortly,” she said politely.
Peighton and Kyle walked to the desk, taking their seats. “Can you tell me,” Peighton asked, “when we will be able to see my husband?”
“Officer Nealson should be able to answer that. He won’t be long.” She paused before turning to leave. “Is there anything I can get for you? Coffee, maybe?”
Peighton shook her head, unable to speak. Her insides felt numb, and she was sure she would vomit if she’d had anything in her stomach. Beside her, Kyle sat quietly. He hadn’t spoken since they left the house, his last words an accusation toward his mother.
“Kyle,” she said softly, moving her hand toward his. He pulled them back dramatically, not bothering to look at her. “Kyle, sweetheart, please talk to me.” When he didn’t answer, she went on. “You can’t have meant what you said at the house. You know I would never do anything to hurt your father.”
Still, no answer. “Kyle, look at me.”
“What, Mom? What do you want?” he asked, his voice rising.
“Kyle, honey, please just…don’t yell,” she said in a hurried whisper, unsure of what she really wanted to say to him. Nothing felt right. She couldn’t ask if he was okay, because of course he wasn’t. She couldn’t ask if he’d meant what he said, because it would only hurt to know the answer. She couldn’t tell him it was going to be okay, because she wasn’t sure if anything would ever feel okay again. So, instead, she put her head down, staring at her clasped hands.
After a few more minutes of absolute silence, the door to their room finally opened and the officer who had been with them at the house entered. In his hands, he held three white squares: photographs, Peighton realized.
“All right, guys,” he said as he pulled out his chair and sat down, “our medical examiner captured these three photographs of the victim. I want to prepare you for what you’re going to see.” He laid the photographs down in front of him face down. “His jaw was broken during the fall—”
“Fall?” Peighton asked.
“The victim fell down a flight of stairs in your home,” Officer Nealson answered. “His neck and jaw were broken immediately.” He stopped, staring at Kyle, who had taken in a sharp breath and wasn’t releasing it. Peighton looked beside her, touching her son’s shoulders. This time, he didn’t pull away.
“Kyle, you don’t have to be here for this,” she said.
He glanced up at the officer, his face grim. “Go on.”
“The pictures are going to be hard to look at, ma’am. Even just a broken jaw distorts the face quite a bit. Our M.E. tried to set it back in place, but it’s still not back to normal. The first two are a frontal and profile shot of his face.” He pushed two pictures out of the pile without turning them over. His finger landed on the last picture. “The third is of a tattoo the victim has on his chest. Since it may be hard to recognize him, tattoos and birthmarks often make it easier on families.” Peighton nodded, though her chest grew tight with each breath. She knew what the tattoo would be. She could see it in her mind already, picture the day he got it. “Whenever you’re ready,” the officer spoke softly, his hands brushing over the pictures.
Peighton nodded. “I’m ready.”
Cautiously, he lifted the photographs up, turning them over in front of them like a stack of cards. Peighton had known it was coming, she was sure it would be her husband, and yet the moment he turned the pictures over, a small bit of hope she hadn’t known was there dissipated. She sucked in a deep breath, tears immediately filling her eyes. Her breathing grew shallow and the room seemed to close in around her. Beside her, she was only vaguely aware of her son’s loud, groaning sob. She pulled the pictures close to her with careful, shaking hands. There he was: her beautiful best friend. She ran a finger over his brown, matted hair. His jaw hung strangely to the left, and his nose was swollen, a deep cut running across it. His eyelids were closed, yet she knew if he opened them she would see the deep sea-green she was so in love with. In the last picture she saw the tattoo that boasted their son’s name and birthday. His tiny footprints danced just below Todd’s left collar bone.
Finally, Kyle spoke, breaking her train of thought. “It’s him.”
The officer nodded, writing something down in his notepad. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Can we see him?” Peighton asked.
“Soon,” he confirmed. “We’ll need to ask you a few questions when you’re ready. And then I can have someone take you back to see him.”
“Okay,” Peighton said softly, letting him take the photographs back. “What do you need to know?”
“Would you like to do the interviews separately?” he asked, looking at Kyle.
“He’s a minor,” Peighton said, grabbing her son’s hand. “I should be with him.”
“Very well,” the officer said. “Where were you today?” He flipped his notebook to another page and looked up at them.
“You need our alibis? Wasn’t this an accident? Did someone do this to my husband? Did someone hurt him?” Peighton asked.
“These are just standard questions, ma’am. We don’t know anything yet.”
Peighton clasped her hands together in front of her, squeezing them tight. “I was at work this morning.”
“What time was that?”
“I left around seven-thirty.”
“And what about you, Kyle?” he asked, looking at him.
“I was with my friends.”
“What time was that, would you say?”
Kyle shrugged. “I don’t know, eight maybe?”
“Was anyone in the house after you both left?”
“Just my dad and Isabel.”
“Our housekeeper,” Peighton answered.
“Okay, where is Isabel now?”
Peighton looked at her phone. “It’s Thursday, she’d be running some of Todd’s clothes to the dry cleaners and grocery shopping.”
“We’ll need to speak to her,” the man said. “Are you able to give me her contact information?”
“Of course,” Peighton said, sliding her phone across the table with Isabel’s number on the screen.
“I’ll also need the contact information for the friends you were with today,” he said to Kyle, whose jaw dropped.
“But why?” he whined.
“Just give them to him, Kyle,” Peighton scolded.
“Fine,” he said, pulling out his phone.
As Officer Nealson copied down the names and numbers, he spoke again. “Does anyone besides the four of you have access to your house?”
“Yes, Frank. He’s the head of my husband’s security team. Was,” she corrected herself, “was the head of my husband’s security team, I guess.”
“Is his contact info in here?” he asked, pointing to the phones. Peighton nodded, taking the phone from him to find Frank’s name before handing it back. “Does your house have an alarm system?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Have you had any break-ins before? Any strange people lurking around your house?”
“No, never.” Peighton shook her head quickly. “Our neighborhood has always been extremely quiet, we know most of our neighbors. We’ve never worried about anything.”
“Okay, Kyle, now I need to ask you a few questions.”
“Okay,” Kyle grumbled.
“Did you ever notice anything or anyone suspicious around your house? Did your father ever mention anything that made you worry about his or your safety?”
“No,” Kyle said simply.
“Okay, what about what you said earlier? That your mother,” he glanced at Peighton, “knew this was going to happen. What did you mean by that?”
“I don’t know.” Kyle shrugged, rubbing his arms as if he were cold.
“You don’t know?”
Peighton spoke up. “What exactly are you accusing me of?”
This seemed to catch the officer by surprise. “Excuse me?”
“My son was obviously distraught when he said what he said. He was upset with me because I had come to pick him up early from his friend Jessica’s. I had a bad feeling. I couldn’t get ahold of my husband and I was worried about Kyle. I came to get him early, embarrassed him, and he was mad at me. That’s what he meant, I knew something was going to happen, or that something had happened. I can’t explain how, because I don’t honestly know. I just…felt it. Mother’s instinct, I guess. But what you’re doing…what you’re asking of him, to talk to you when his father has just passed away, it’s not fair. He’s only fifteen years old, he’s just a child. His whole world has been turned upside down. He needs time. We all need time.”
The officer looked at Kyle and scribbled something down in his notebook. Beside her, Kyle collapsed onto her shoulder, his sobs growing loud again. She couldn’t help but fill with a sense of insurmountable love as her son fell into her arms. Tears welled in her eyes again, all anger forgotten. She was still his mother and he still needed her, no matter how old he grew. She rubbed his shoulders, placing a kiss on the top of his head.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” he told her, his words barely recognizable through the tears.
“I’m not accusing you of anything, Mrs. Claiborne. I have to have this all on official statement, and I have to cover all of my bases, for your husband’s sake. Surely you understand that.”
She nodded. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped at you. Today has just been…” she trailed off, not sure of the word to describe this nightmare. She leaned her head onto her son, syncing their breathing, and wishing they were anywhere but there.
“I know this is hard, believe me. I’m so sorry to put you both through this. I just have one last question for now.”
Peighton nodded, not taking her eyes off of her child.
“Do you know of anyone who might want to hurt your husband? Has he ever received any threatening calls, letters, messages of any sort?” He looked at her seriously, his eyes obviously trying to read her expression.
She thought for a moment, still latched onto Kyle with both arms. “Nothing we ever took seriously. He’s a senator, so obviously he has people who don’t like him, who don’t agree with his views…but Todd was a friendly person. People love him. He was a good man. I can’t imagine anyone seriously wanting to hurt him.” She realized as she spoke she was mixing up the past and present tense, trying hard to keep up with the questions. It was hard for her to imagine her husband as permanently past tense, harder for her to accept.
“Okay,” he said simply, closing his notebook. “Thank you both. Now, whenever you’re ready, if you’re ready, I can take you to see your husband’s body.”