Saturday, July 05, 2008


It was Thursday evening, and our Minyan Gang was just sitting down to dinner at one of the local Italian eateries when my cell phone rang.

Or, more properly, buzzed. I prefer to avoid annoying everyone within earshot with the sound of Yet Another Obnoxious Ringtone, so I have my CrackBerry set on “Vibrate.” [Sometimes I’ll shove it into my skivvies and encourage everyone to call me. Why do you think they call it a “Crack”Berry?]

Two buzzes means an incoming e-mail; four or more means a telephone call. As soon as I realized that it was a phone call, I looked at the caller ID.

It was a number in Sweat City, home of the headquarters of the Great Corporate Salt Mine. On the chance that it might be important, I picked up.

It was Denise, my Overseer’s Overseer. I asked how she was; she answered, “Not very good.”

When your Overseer’s Overseer calls you up at 7:30 p.m. the evening before a three-day weekend, your initial thought is likely to be, “Oh, shit” - especially if she says she’s “not too good.” It matters not whether your conscience is pure as the driven snow: You will experience a momentary thrill of absolute paranoia. What now?

The last time I got one of these calls, it was my then-Overseer, calling to deliver Evil Tidings about a colleague who had been murdered, along with his wife, in a home invasion. And this call, as it happens, was much the same.

Our department’s Administrative Assistant had been stabbed to death in an apparent home invasion in northwest Houston. Her husband had also been stabbed in the chest and was recovering in the hospital; their two children, thankfully, were unharmed. All of this had happened early that morning, but it had taken all day for the news to reach the folks at the Salt Mine.

My Overseer’s Overseer was weeping openly on the line. I felt like a block of wood.

Dorothy - the victim - was as close to a secretary as I still had since I had begun working from my Home Outpost in late 2005. It was to her that I would send my expense accounts and my time reports, it was with her that I would book meeting time with the Grand Panjandrums at Headquarters.

A little over a month ago, we were at our semiannual departmental meeting, a meeting that I had organized with no small help from Dorothy. We had had a Team-Building Activity one evening, playing Laser Tag and racing go-karts. Now this vivacious young lady (well, she looked young) was gone. Good God.

My in-box is full of her e-mails. My speed-dial has her number, front-and-center.

You lose one colleague to a home-invasion murder, it’s bad luck.

You lose two colleagues to home-invasion murders, you start wondering if your department is snakebit. I began feeling very thankful that I had decided never to relocate to Houston.

And right before July 4, of all days. Independence Day is a happy day for our nation, but it’s a day of quiet, private grief for the Missus. It’s also the day on which Dash and Christina had their house burn to the ground two years ago...fortunately, without loss of life or limb. Now, this.

SWMBO tried to comfort me, but as I related more of what I knew - and as we checked the news reports coming from Houston over the Internet - she began to suspect that something about the story didn’t quite hang together.

Home invasions usually involve robbery... yet here, nothing was taken. The husband was stabbed in the chest - non-fatally - while the wife suffered multiple stab wounds. Wouldn’t an invader want to neutralize the husband first, then deal with the (presumably less dangerous) wife afterwards?

The story the next day confirmed SWMBO’s suspicions. The husband had stabbed his wife to death; under police questioning, he had confessed to staging the break-in in order to cover up his act of murder.

A host of horrifying little questions began to nag at me.

Did he stab her while she slept? Did she know what was going on? Did she wake up to the terror of seeing her life’s blood drain away?

I do not know the answers to these questions. I hope that I never know the answers to these questions. But what I do know is, as unpleasant and morally questionable as the death penalty may be to some people, there are cases where the Sleep-Needle is the Right Thing To Do. And this sure looks like one of those cases.

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