“My life is one long lesson in false hopes, Mr. Mote. Don’t worry. Even if you find nothing, I’ll feel better for your having tried.” I look at Judy. Unfortunately, she takes it as a signal that she should say something.
“Sister Brigit says we … we should always try. If … if … at first you don’t sneeze, try … I should say, try, try again.” She flashes me a big, how-do-you-like-them-apples smile and then resumes her formal face for Mrs. Pratt.
Mrs. Pratt interprets my not saying no as an indication that I am saying yes, a mistake the women in my life have often made.
“Just for background, let me tell you something that very few people at the university know. I am not Richard’s first wife. He first married when he was very young. She was a high school sweetheart. He went to college but she never did. They got married a few days after their high school graduation. She was cute but not, I used to think, very bright. It was a strange match. But of course he wasn’t the same person then that he became later. His first full-time teaching job was at Memphis State—I think they’ve changed the name recently. He was there three years, teaching four courses each term, trying to write scholarly articles so he could escape the place, and just failing to live on an assistant professor’s salary. Completely overloaded. His wife sat home and dusted their thrift store furniture and waited dutifully and expectantly for the children to start coming. She never knew he was mixing birth control pills in with the vitamins he insisted she take every morning. Poor woman couldn’t figure out why she was gaining weight.
“Like I said, I used to think she wasn’t very bright. I realized later I never gave her enough credit. I ran into her every once in a while after Richard and I were married. It was strange. She spoke very civilly. I got the distinct impression she felt sorry for me. It was clear she wasn’t as dull-witted as I had thought. And she wrote me a very perceptive letter last summer after Richard’s death.”
“Oh, just about how Richard was, not about anything related to his death. I’m telling you this because I want you to know everything that might be helpful.” We talk for a few minutes more about the little she knows about Pratt’s hometown and first marriage; then Mrs. Pratt pauses.
“There’s one more relevant thing I think you should know from the start.”
I raise my eyebrows, trying to look as professional and encouraging as possible.
“Something was bothering Richard in the last month before his death. Bothering him tremendously. He wouldn’t say what it was. In fact, he wouldn’t even admit that anything was bothering him. But I’m his wife. I could read him like he could decipher a text, and I know for certain that he was greatly troubled. If we could find out what it was, I think we’d know why my husband is dead.” I shoot Judy a stern look to forestall any of Sister Brigit’s insights about the dead. That Pratt was troubled by something is not exactly a hot lead, but maybe his state of mind is the best I’m going to get at this point. Since Mrs. Pratt has assumed I will accept her offer, I decide not to fight it.
“Well, Mrs. Pratt, if you think it would be helpful, I’m willing to see what I can come up with. We’ll just take it week to week. You tell me to stop anytime you want. I’ll bill you every two weeks.”
“That’s good, Mr. Mote. When do you think you can start?” “I can start right now.” “Good.” “So there was something bothering your husband. Do you think there was also a who?”
“Yes. Professor Abramson.”