There Are a Lot of Short Fat Women
Gwen waited all night for a knock on her door. She put her clothes in the washing machine and wiped her shoes down with cleaner. Just before dawn, she hopped in the shower. As she was drying herself off, Gwen took a good long look at herself in the mirror. She noticed that she had lost quite a bit of weight. All that walking in the city and meals missed when she was stalking had made a big change in her physique. She knew her clothes were looser but had not realized the extent of her weight loss. She didn’t own a scale, never wanted one in her home, but she guessed she was down a good twenty pounds. Gwen smiled to herself.
“Stalking has its benefits. Who knew?”
Gwen knew this could be helpful to her, so she found clothes that fit her tightly, showing off her new slimmer physique. When the police came, she didn’t want them to see a fat woman.
The sun was finally up and Gwen ate and sat at her desk to start working. The first knock came at 10:00 a.m. Gwen went to the door, took a deep breath, and opened, fully expecting to see the police. She was shocked when she saw Claire standing there. They looked at each other for a second, and then Claire threw her arms around her friend. “I am so very sorry, Gwen. I wish I had been here with you.”
Gwen couldn’t answer. She just held on tight, and as they had twenty-two years or so before, they stood in Gwen’s doorway for a good five minutes, just holding each other and crying. When they pulled apart, Gwen helped Claire bring her suitcase into the apartment.
“I can get a hotel, but I wanted to come and see you first.”
“You’re not getting a hotel. You can stay here. Do you mind staying in Leah’s room?”
“Not at all. Do you mind?”
“No. I don’t know that I could let anyone other than you stay in there though.”
Gwen put the suitcase in Leah’s room and made Claire a cup of tea. They sat in the living room together, and Gwen retold the story of her daughter’s death. Claire knew the details from Gwen’s email, but she listened as she held Gwen’s hand. When she finished, Gwen said, “I’m sorry I didn’t let you know sooner. I just couldn’t talk about it. I wasn’t fit to be around anybody.”
“I understand.” Claire didn’t really understand, but that was okay. She was here now and would try to help her friend as best she could.
The second knock on the door didn’t come until midafternoon. Gwen slowly walked to the door, took a deep breath, and opened it to see two police officers. One was Officer Mandato, and he was with a female officer. Gwen didn’t wait for preliminary greetings. “Officers,” she nodded, “you have more news on my daughter’s death?”
“No, ma’am,” responded Officer Mandato, “not directly. But we would like to come in and talk to you, if that’s okay.”
Gwen stood aside and motioned them in. “Have a seat. This is my friend Claire Lambertson…sorry Adams. Can I get you anything?”
Both officers responded, “No, thank you.”
Gwen sat next to Claire, across from the officers, and waited expectantly. She could feel Claire’s anxiety and confusion but focused on the other two people in the room. Mandato started, “I’m Detective Mandato with the City PD. I’m sure you remember me.” Gwen nodded. “And this is Detective Davis. Can we talk privately?”
Gwen nodded at the female detective. Looking back at Detective Mandato, she said, “Claire is family. I have no problem with her being here.”
Detective Mandato nodded. “When was the last time you saw Donna Mueller?” asked Davis.
Gwen looked her directly in the eye. “The day my daughter died.”
“You haven’t been to her apartment or around her apartment building since that day?”
“No. I have no desire to see her.”
“Do you hold Miss Mueller responsible for your daughter’s death?”
“Yes. She was with Leah. She should have called for help. She did not.”
“I see,” replied Davis, thinking. “Have you ever thought about approaching Miss Mueller about that?”
“Why not?” asked Mandato.
“I would end up in jail. I don’t want to talk to her, Detective. I want to strangle her.” Gwen shrugged. “So I stay away.” Gwen sat silent for a second, watching the detectives, who were watching her. “Why all these questions all of a sudden? My daughter has been dead for over six months, and this is the first time anyone has come to talk to me. Have you found her dealer? Has anyone been arrested?”
“No, ma’am,” answered Detective Mandato, at least having the decency to bow his head a bit when admitting to that. “Miss Mueller was assaulted last night.”
“I see, but that doesn’t explain why you are here.”
“Someone matching your description has been seen in the area lately.”
“There are a lot of short fat women in Baltimore,” Gwen responded. She could feel Claire’s eyes on her.
“Not many have it out for our victim. You do.”
“I have not contacted Donna or gone near her since the day Leah died.” Gwen snorted. “She didn’t even have the decency to show up at Leah’s funeral. I care nothing about her and hope I never see her again. That’s all I can tell you.”
“Where were you last night, Miss Marsh?”
“Right here. I did some work in the evening, read, and was in bed by midnight.”
“What kind of work do you do?”
“Bookkeeping for local small businesses.”
“You do that here?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Can anyone confirm that you were here all evening?”
“I live alone, Detective.” Then remembering that Claire was here with her, she said, “Claire did not arrive from Ohio until this morning.” Claire silently nodded assent. Gwen looked from one detective to the other. “Anything else?”
The detectives both stood. “No. We’ll get back to you if we have any more questions.”
As Gwen led them to the door, Detective Davis turned and said, “You haven’t asked about the assault or if Miss Mueller is okay.”
“That’s because I don’t care. Have a nice day, detectives.”
After closing the door, Gwen turned to find Claire looking at her. “I don’t want to talk about it.” Claire nodded and thought that when her friend was ready, she would talk about it. Claire stayed for three days, and they never discussed the visit from the police.
Once in the car, Detective Davis said, “That is one cold woman, but I believe her.”
“I’m not so sure. I saw the look of hate in her eyes that morning at the station. She wanted to kill that girl, and she didn’t even know the circumstances of her daughter’s death yet.”
“I didn’t say she didn’t hate the victim. She clearly does. I just don’t think she did anything about it. She was not nervous at all speaking to us but was very matter-of-fact, and she didn’t hide the fact that she hated this woman, even said she wanted to strangle her. I say we keep looking but hold on to this information in case we want to revisit Miss Marsh. If we do, we come back with a warrant to have a look at her computer.”
As they drove off, Detective Mandato still wasn’t buying it. Miss Marsh needed more looking into. He decided to keep her file on his desk and dig into her a bit more as he had time. Problem was, though, when you’re a Baltimore City cop, you don’t get a lot of downtime. Assaults take a back seat to murders, and the file on Donna Mueller and Gwen Marsh was quickly buried under higher-priority cases.