Excerpts from deposition of Novice/Acting Firefighter Brandon Freeman taken on November 23rd 20XX at 9:20 am in the Hennepin County Courthouse, Room F18
For the plaintiff; Twyla Sizemore, as special administrator for the estate of Jacob Ogden: Laura Hardinger of Rivers, Potters, and Associates, et al.
For the defendant; Bailey Safety Systems, Naomi Flynn of Cliffton, Ballard and Howe.
. . .
Hardinger: When you entered the room, what was the first thing you noticed?
Freeman: After my superior Brenda Stangeland met the witness outside the apartment, I proceeded to enter the one-room apartment and noticed a window open with a stiff breeze flowing in. There was a man lying on the bed under covers and between the bed and the window was a small portable kerosene heater. It was off.
Hardinger: What did you do next?”
Freeman: I checked the man for vital signs and there was no pulse or breathing. The man’s skin was cold to the touch and had a pinkish hue to it. I immediately assessed the man was dead and the most likely cause carbon monoxide poisoning presumably from the heater present, but no longer working.
Hardinger: You didn’t know it was carbon monoxide poisoning, right?
Freeman: I was operating under the theory it was.
Hardinger: Were you testing the air in the room at the time?
Freeman: I was carrying a Hemming Code 3 Air analyzer. Actually, it was attached to my coat. Given the initial report to 911, it is standard procedure to affix an air testing machine and wear a respirator to protect ourselves.
Hardinger: What was the reading on the tester?
Freeman: It had a negligible reading.
Hardinger: Was there any reason the tester came up with a negative reading?
Freeman: Probably due to the open window and the transition time from the station to the victim’s apartment.
Hardinger: Was there additional testing done?
Freeman: Yes, we found a significant amount of carbon monoxide and elevated carbon dioxide levels in the bathroom. We believe the gas was trapped and the open window affected that room less.
Hardinger: Were the carbon monoxide levels at a dangerous concentration?
Freeman: Not for an adult. They could have been dangerous for an elderly person, someone with an impaired immune system, or a small child or infant. Otherwise, the levels were elevated but not deadly.
Hardinger: Thank you. Now, did you say the carbon dioxide level was also high?
Freeman: In the bathroom?
Hardinger: Yes, was the carbon dioxide level in the bathroom elevated above normal?
Freeman: It was, and by a significant amount.
Hardinger: Could that be from the heater?
Hardinger: Mr. Freeman, should I repeat the question?
Freeman: It’s possible the level was higher due to operation of the portable heater, but there weren’t any levels of other gases present which are usually…
Hardinger: Let me rephrase, what other possible source for carbon dioxide could there be?
Freeman: I don’t know of one.
Flynn: Objection. Firefighter Freeman is a fact witness, telling us what he found at the scene. He’s not an expert witness able to assess the source of certain gases.
Hardinger: Let me ask this question instead. When you were testing the air in that apartment, were there other sources of gases found by either you or the forensic team?
Freeman: No other ones. The boiler in the basement had normal levels around it and the exhaust was properly vented. There were no other heaters used in the building either. Ogden’s apartment was the only one that night which had a space heater in it. Police canvassed the building and found no others.
Hardinger: So by process of elimination, you found the heater present in the apartment was the object that poisoned Mr. Ogden.
Flynn: Objection. Counsel is drawing expert conclusions, improperly testifying, and misconstruing the facts as presented.
Hardinger: Counsel, your objection is noted. I’ll let you cross now.
“What about Kenny? I thought you liked him,” Rush heard Ben say as he entered the front hall. He could hear doors banging shut -- cabinet, not room doors -- and listened to Clay’s response, with some amusement.
“Kenny is a chess-playing nerdy loser. I’m over him. I like Judd. He’s a cheerleader and he’s hotter than shit.”
“I thought geeks were the new hotties.”
Rush waited for the explosion as he set down his bag, but it seemed the teen wasn’t rising to Ben’s taunts. He rattled the coat rack and closed the door loudly. They didn’t seem to hear him.
“Judd’s smart. Besides, how smart can chess-boy be. He didn’t even thank his boyfrie-, when a guy gives him a present. Then, he starts flirting with the newbie who just started at South High and only joined the GSA last month. Kenny’s cute and smart, but he’s too shallow for me. Judd’s got something special about him.”
Rush smirked in glee. Clay was acting like a normal teenager. He was looking around, figuring out his world, and making choices. He was seeing how people acted, prioritizing, evaluating, and making smart decisions like throwing the flighty, though brilliant, Kenny to the curb. High school was the place to practice these skills, to exercise emotions, learn to restrain, engage and reflect.
For Rush, his teen years were a series of evasive maneuvers, avoiding detection, pretending to like people he didn’t, and pointedly not exercising his emotions. For those four long years, he’d bottled things up, let them simmer and ferment, then when he finally broke free, he didn’t know what to do. It was wild abandon, without restraint. That led to heartache, some depression, and finally he’d gotten past the hurts. Sometimes he thought he was at least ten years behind everyone else, at least emotionally.
“Why do you do that? Bring up my old dates? Fuck, Jamie was at least four months ago. I’m only seventeen. I need to hang out with guys, not marry them.”
Obviously, Ben had brought up a sore subject. “I realize you’re young and you have crushes and flirtations, but if you don’t know how to commit, it’s going to be a lonely life.”
“I’m home,” Rush called out, hoping to stop the next answer from the angry teen. Clay and Ben still acted like two dogs fighting over an old, desiccated bone – him --but for the most part they were getting along. He needed to head this one off at the pass.
“We’re in here,” Ben called back. His face appeared in the doorway, a mirthful grin on his face, and then he disappeared. “Clay has a new beau.”
“Why do you call them weird names like that?” Clay answered, speaking loudly, but not yelling, not yet. “You guys watch too many old movies. You’re not that old. You should get with the program.”
Rush hung up his coat and put his computer bag next to the hall table. “His latest suitor is an athlete, a cheerleader, who it appears is very bendy.”
Rush snorted at the reference.
“Why do you always minimize my life choices?” Clay laughed. Okay this was getting good.
Rush walked toward the living room and called out, “When do we get to meet this new admirer of his?”
Ben started laughing. Clay was bellowing and snorting in glee.
“My new ‘swain’ is picking me up for a movie tonight at eight. You can grill him then, only be nice. I don’t want to scare him off. He’s an old-fashioned gay cheerleader, who isn’t used to impressing two dads.” Clay stood up from the couch, grinned mischievously at both men, and bounced from the room, as he usually did.
“His two dads,” Rush said, throwing his arm around Ben’s shoulder. “I think you’ve been accepted into the family, my dear.”
Ben turned and hugged the detective firmly. “I think he’s warming to me.”
“He knows you love him,” Rush answered. “That’s all it takes for him.”
Ben pulled away quickly. “Of course I love him. I introduced you two. He propositioned me first.”
Rush chuckled remembering the awkward moments when Clay was struggling last year. His progress was amazing from that time. He was still a little shit though.
“He did,” Rush said. “How was your day, dear?”
They ran through his day’s events quickly. Ben’s job was becoming a bit tiresome. He felt marginalized at times. The work was more data-entry recently, and he couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t a big deal though, the work flow changed from time to time. After only a few moments, the subject changed to Rush’s most recent interview.
Ben reacted much as Rush expected. “Is it really that surprising a man thinks his ex-wife is the bride of Satan?”
Rush had considered the same thing only a couple of hours earlier. “I agree, but here’s where it’s different. He was very apologetic about her. Jay seemed to find excuses for her behavior, things she’d done that were really quite over-the-top. The firm gave me the file. There are bank statements showing where Jake paid her rent several times, most of the time, to be honest, and yet his father said it wasn’t really her fault.”
“I get there could be residual affection for her, but what does he think she did to her son. Keep in mind, this is her son he’s referring to.”
“Jay Odgen is worried his ex-wife has become so unstable she did something crazy. Apparently, she’s called him up a few times in the past couple of weeks ranting about Jake’s betrayal. According to him, she’s never been quite that bad before.”
Ben considered the overall implication of Rush’s words. He knew the man so well, he could hardly pause to deliver the next question. “Did she make threats?”
Rush looked a little surprised, then nodded slowly. “She thinks, or I should say thought, Jake was influenced by another person who convinced him to cut her off.”
Ben thought about it for a second. “What did she say exactly? She was rather odd in her interview, right?”
Rush bit his lip. “Yeah, her talk about the lawsuit and how they’d cheated ‘her’ seemed incoherent at the time, but after interviewing Jay, this is how she reacts to things.”
Ben picked up his mug. It had to contain herbal tea. The man was obsessed as of late with the horrible infusions. “To be fair, let’s consider the facts objectively. He is telling you what she said. You are marrying her words to his implications. This makes her look really awful, but it’s not really evidence.”
Rush agreed. Before he went to grab a beer, he said softly, “You’re right except, her son was cutting her off. She saw the meal ticket was punched out. Rats are pretty dangerous when backed into corners.”
Ben didn’t respond. As his partner left the room, he thought about the implications of that remark.
Twyla turned off the music. Usually she enjoyed listening to the songs from her childhood, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, the Jayhawks and Soul Asylum. The song ‘Runaway Train’ was grating her nerves, annoying her. It was too much like her mother right now, a train which was careening down the tracks without any brakes or control. She feared there was a yawning gorge ahead and was even more concerned by another thought.
Was she a passenger on that crazy train about to race to her death?
It was a scary thought, but with her mother it wasn’t an odd one. Winnie had always been a little off. Even as a child, it had been Twyla who’d taken care of the family after their father left. Winnie was ‘sleeping it off’ when she wasn’t trolling the bars for men or gambling with her friends out at Mystic Lake Casino.
Now she was going to pay her mother’s rent and bring her some groceries. It would be difficult since Winnie didn’t appreciate the effort and would harass her about the lawsuit. That’s all her mother could talk about now, getting money for Jake’s death. Her mother had poisoned all her relationships. Twyla had to think hard about good things her mother had done.
She did have one truly happy memory, well, more than one actually, but the incident with the popsicles stuck out. It was a singularly good day. It made her smile as she remembered.
It was a rare weekend when they didn’t go to their father’s. That Saturday, Jake had tae kwon do in the morning, while she had piano lessons. The day was very hot. The inside of the apartment was stifling and the air conditioner couldn’t keep up with making the place comfortable.
Their mother had the usual raccoon-like dark circles around her eyes from a night of boozing it up with a couple of her girlfriends while Jake and she had played with the pool balls, bouncing them off the felt-lined sides of the table. They’d had a late night out at their usual bar, The Cardinal, a smelly, dank, foul establishment. Her mother often brought her and Jake with to the awful place.
In the wee hours of the next morning, Twyla had heard the low tones of a male voice. Then the faint, muffled cries of her mother, but she didn’t get out of bed and fell asleep again quickly. Until seeing her mother’s ratted out hair and sallow complexion, she’d forgotten about the man Winnie snuck into the house the night before.
After a few more cups of coffee, her mother slipped out of her summer robe, and into a halter top and jean shorts. She’d brushed her hair, and the coffee had seemed to do the trick. Her mother looked normal, except she was sweating. Winnie always sweated after a late night, and with the afternoon heat, the apartment sweltering, and no relief in sight, she made an announcement.
“We need to get outta here.”
“Can we go to the pool?” Jake asked, brightening up.
“No, it will be too crowded today. I don’t want you swimming in all that urine. With kids in diapers and mothers who don’t watch too closely, it’ll be a filthy, stinking mess no matter how much chlorine they use.”
“What else can we do to cool off?” Twyla asked.
“How about a movie?” she said, grinning from ear to ear.
Twyla remembered Winnie had to be in her early thirties at that time. She would have been Twyla’s age now. Her skin would have been elastic and pink with health. Her bones would be strong. Her eyes still clear and her voice melodic instead of whiny. When she thought about Winnie, it was with her wrinkled skin and rheumy, bloodshot eyes, but back then, her mother would bounce back quickly from the alcoholic hazes. Not like she was now, which then brought her back to the popsicles.
Winnie wouldn’t tell them what movie she was taking them to see. She said it was a surprise, and given the last movie they’d seen, that awful Hercules one, so dumb, it was probably a boring kids’ movie.
When she bought tickets for ‘Men in Black’, the film both Jake and her had been begging to see, they’d started jumping around like crazy people. Their mother laughed at their antics and then told Jake if he had nightmares, it was the last PG-13 movie he’d ever see. He was ten and she was twelve, so it was kind of a big deal.
Jake almost ruined the afternoon, she remembered, because he’d whined for popcorn. Mom tried to ignore him, at first, then finally couldn’t take his grumbling any longer. She said she didn’t have the money. She’d never said that before. She usually said, she didn’t have money for ‘that’. They never had many things, certainly only school clothes, a few toys, and most of the time it was their dad who took the two of them shopping. Winnie never had any extra money.
The movie was fantastic. The three of them laughed and afterwards, as they left the dark, cool, heavenly theater, Jake pretended to erase her memory with his imaginary flash thingy. Finally, Winnie told him to cool it as they drove out of the parking lot. The windows were down, the air was humid and hot, the radio was playing Twyla’s favorite song that summer, MMMBop, by Hanson, the dreamiest of the boy bands.
Instead of returning to the horribly steamy apartment, their mother stopped at a grocery store. She bought a small box of popsicles with three different flavors. The trio went to a park behind the shopping center and sat under a tree on the grass. They ate popsicle after popsicle until their fingers were stained and hands and legs twitched from all the sugar. Mom said, if you were cool from the inside out, it made the heat more bearable.
She was right. It did. And it was a special afternoon.
Twyla realized the ‘popsicle day’ had occurred a few times. Sure, her mother had been absent more than most, but on an average, three days out of five were decent. Winnie would be in the kitchen making dinner for her and Jake after school. They’d eat, maybe play a game after homework, and the drinking happened after they’d gone to bed. It’s easy to conflate the good and bad things together, making it all seem sad. Most of the time, Winnie had been a parent who washed their clothes, fed them, got them to school, and even hugged her and Jake on occasion. Sometimes, there were special things the woman had done for them. She loved them.
Why was it all the hurt feelings and painful events were like clouds that seemed to block the sunlight of their episodes of happiness? Memories like this seemed almost alien, but they’d happened and Winnie had tried to be a good mother. She really had.
Twyla vowed to try harder. To remember.
This time, the woman was visibly upset over the questioning. In fact, at first she’d refused, stating baldly the detective was wasting her time. Then, she evaded his first question saying he was interfering with a police investigation, therefore she couldn’t talk with him. Rush simply sat back and waited for her to respond. She fiddled with her piercings and twitched in her chair a few times, and then finally answered him.
“I’ve been to his apartment so many times, I really couldn’t say.”
Rush realized the setting also seemed to affect her mood. When he’d called, she would only meet him at a public location. She refused to talk to him at her home. He allowed her to pick the place and she’d chosen the food court at Eastdale Mall, a large, loud place that was filled with distractions. It was noon now, and there were several parties of children eating, screaming, and chasing one another around the space. This food court had a large merry-go-round installed at the front, luring in people like a brightly painted, garishly dressed circus clown. It played modern music, not the outdated stuff he remembered as a kid. It was now playing a Justin Bieber tune which seemed rather absurd, yet not as creepy as he recalled.
Rush asked again, “Since you’ve been there many times, surely you noticed if it was there or not.”
She sighed and her brightly colored hair bounced as a result. “I don’t know if I’ve seen it before. Probably. In the winter, the radiators always bellowed and squeaked and stuff. I can’t really say I remember.”
Rush jotted his imaginary notes, allowing the question to simmer a bit more.
“I think he had it last spring, maybe?” There was definitely a question in her voice. “I’m really not positive, but I think I remember it smelled a little like burnt toast back in April. Jake used to bitch about how cheap his landlord was. They turned on the boiler the first of November and shut it off at the end of March, just like the law required. He must have gotten sick of sleeping in long underwear.”
Rush paused. He watched as Natalie seemed to collect herself. She settled into her chair, adjusted her shirt, touched her hair, and then licked her lips. Then, the woman looked at him with a different approach. This time, she was smoother, her eyes were blinking slowly, her lips were swollen and red, and her demeanor was different. Now she was flirting with him, he could tell by the languid changes in her movements and the flushing of her skin. Apparently her gaydar was broken, badly.
“Listen,” she said. “I’m not sure what this questioning is about. Jake obviously got a heater to keep his apartment more comfortable. I saw it. The thing was going when I arrived. I found him cold, dead, and it freaked me out. I turned it off. That’s the story, the whole story, and I’m not sure what you’re looking for.”
“And opened the window, right?”
She shrugged and nodded ‘yes’ at the same time.
The detective weighed her words, measured them, and finally put her response together. It seemed perfectly sound, and she was correct in her assessment. She had found him with a heater spewing poisonous gas. She had done the right thing, called the police, and nothing was wrong with her story.
Rush ended his interview, and looked over his last notes. This made him alter his next step. He needed to question a witness whose story wasn’t really quite right.
“I visited him, and after he told me about his mother, I left.” Eddie wasn’t especially agitated. He was responded normally, with a cadence that was normal, a sound of routine, and rather matter-of fact.
Rush felt the man’s answers seemed, well, rehearsed or canned or something. They weren’t candid. Ordinary murderers couldn’t handle the stress like this. They’d explain things. These responses were clean and neat.
He’d only had a couple of cases this structured. One ended up as a suicide. The other was the case from last year. This professional hitman had done the last bad move. His actions had exposed a situation which couldn’t be explained away, and Rush figured it out.
Was this the same?
“Let’s go over this. What happened that night? What do you remember?”
Eddie’s mouth opened and shut. His body moved back and forth. His eyes darted, until he realized this was something he had to react to, eventually.
“I called him, Jake, I mean. He was upset with me. I went to see him.” The man stopped and his behavior was fidgety. Instead of continuing, he argued. “He was fine when I saw him. I left him alive. This is ridiculous.”
“It’s not,” Rush answered. “The man is dead. We know when he died. It’s pretty well established what he died of.” Rush didn’t think lying was a mortal sin, it was a convenient response.
“I didn’t kill him. I couldn’t have.”
The man’s answer wasn’t exactly what the detective expected.
“I can’t prove it, but he was alive. I didn’t kill him. I loved him. No…”
His voice was distant now. Other people were chatting in the background. The cacophony of these people was now obvious.
“Can you prove what you’re saying?” Rush asked.
The other man looked up, rather eagerly at first, then his face drained. It was his eyes that betrayed him. They flicked back and forth, trying to find a way to answer the questions.
“Well?” Rush asked. He kind of knew the answer, but also smiled, because it wasn’t true.
“I never saw him that day. I know you don’t believe me, but I don’t care. Jake was gone that day. I fucked things up, I know, but I didn’t kill him. I didn’t fucking kill him. I don’t care what people say, because people lie. They do. They fucking do.”
It was true. People lie. Just not like this usually.