There were smiles and tears all around. Bridesmaids were crying happily, groomsmen smiled while trying to retain their manliness, relatives had hands cupped over their mouths and tissues dabbing at their eyes. It was a typical wedding. There was hushed silence as the happy couple listened to the minister. The bride and groom were ready to deliver the lines that would promise them to each other.
“Do you, Nathan, take Joyce to be your lawfully wedded wife?” the minister began.
Joyce crumpled to the ground. Gasps filled the church, preluding a chaotic flailing of arms and hushed exclamations, and when the bride didn’t get back up, a stampeding rush of guests to the front of the room.
“Joyce!” Nathan cried, and hurried to kneel beside her, “Joyce!” He felt for her breathing and pulse through her wedding dress, frantic and confused. “Call an ambulance!” he yelled at the gathering crowd. He shook her, but got no response as her head hung limply.
Everyone invited was now huddled around the commotion at the front of the aisle with the exception of a few frantically running to call for help. A second unanimous gasp erupted when Nathan fell over as well.
Detective Ivan Nicholson knocked on the door at the address he had written down. Ronald Stevens, the father of the groom, opened the door, looking reasonably unhappy to see the detective.
“Detective Nicholson, we’ve helped all that we can. We need time to recover.” the man’s eyes were red. Ivan imagined him trying to comfort his wife while keeping his own emotions at bay. Indeed the couple had been very helpful at the scene of the crime, but there was a new break in the case.
Ivan hurried to explain his visit before the man could close the door on his face, “Mr. Stevens, I just need to see one thing, and ask Mrs. Stevens a few questions. I’ll be out of here in a few minutes. We’ve found something new in the lab results, and it might just solve the crime.”
Ronald sighed, “Go easy on her.” He let Ivan inside, bringing him to where his wife was crying on the couch. Ivan looked at her quizzically – as the main suspect of the murder, she was keeping up quite a good act. He chastised himself for jumping to conclusions.
Kate Stevens looked up, face puffed from crying and wet with tears, “What do you want, detective?” she croaked, hoarse from sobbing.
“Mrs. Stevens, so sorry to disturb you,” Ivan apologized, “but we’ve found something new in the lab and I need to ask you some questions. Namely the bottle of Betacare you keep with you. Witnesses at the scene of crime mentioned the medication.”
“What about it?” Kate was weary from crying.
“It was the last thing your son and his fiancée consumed, and it was the cause of death.” Ivan regretted his jump to harsh facts immediately as he saw the reaction from Kate.
Kate gaped, “What-” then covered her face, weeping uncontrollably again.
“Oh, honey, you look so flustered!” Kate smiled reassuringly, “it’s your special day, don’t worry! Everything will be fine!”
Joyce turned to look at her soon to be mother in law, “Big day, Kate, I can’t help myself!”
“We’re all here to celebrate you, Joyce. Do you want something to help with your nerves?” Kate reached into her bag.
Joyce smiled, “You always know best, Kate.”
Joyce swallowed the Betacare pill as Kate left, sighing with relief as she calmed down noticeably.
Kate’s next stop was to visit her son.
“My boy, all grown up. I’ve never seen you so nervous!” Kate joked as she patted her son’s arm affectionately.
Nathan chuckled, “Mom, I grew up a long time ago.”
“Still nervous in front of crowds?” Kate joked.
“Only crowds that are watching me get married,” Nathan laughed.
“Maybe this will help,” Kate smiled.
“Wow, can’t remember the last time I had this.” Nathan looked down at the small white pill.
“Can’t have your nerves ruining the most important ceremony of your life!” Kate warned with a smile.
“Good planning, mom,” Nathan laughed. He thought about his childhood. Whenever things became too much to handle and problems could not be solved by talking; his mother would give him and his sister one of these. Magic pills, they had called them, for they always worked. He swallowed this one as he relaxed into nostalgia.
Kate was shaking now, remembering the wedding day as she wept.
Ronald shouldered past Ivan, giving him glare as he joined his wife on the couch, trying to comfort her. He glared at Ivan, “Are you trying to accuse my wife or murder?”
“I’m just stating the facts we have right now. I need your help to find out whom to really accuse.” Ivan was always awkward with the personal side of investigations, and found it hard to keep a comforting tone, “I need to see those pills, Ms. Stevens.”
“Honey, give him the bottle from my bag.” Kate said quietly.
“Kate, you don’t have to do this. You didn’t do anything wrong.” Ronald held her hand. Ivan sighed inwardly, not looking forward to proving him wrong about his wife’s guiltlessness.
“And the lab results will prove that,” Kate said. “There’s something you should know about the pills, detective. I’ve kept it as a secret all these years, but…” she sighed raggedly, “it doesn’t matter anymore.”
What she said next threw Ivan’s investigation completely off the rails. The lab results later confirmed that he had a new prime suspect.
Ivan looked across the table at Isabel Stevens, the sister of the groom. They were in the interrogation room, and he was taping the interview. He had the facts he needed, and he was looking for a confession.
“Isabel, what do you know about the pills your mother gives to people?” Ivan decided to jump right in to the questions. There was no need to ease her in.
Isabel gaped, the hurriedly replied, “What?”
“You know what I said.” Ivan arched an eyebrow. Isabel’s reaction was typical criminal behaviour. Looks like I’m on the right track, he thought.
“She gives them to people to help them calm down.” Isabel got over her initial surprise.
“Tell me, have you ever taken one of the pills?” Ivan pressed.
“Only when I was little,” Isabel said, cautious.
“Why would a smart woman like your mother give that sort of medication to a child?”
“What? Good God, I don’t know!” Isabel snapped, impatient with Ivan’s indirectness.
Ivan continued, “Has it ever occurred to you they may not actually be medicated?”
“They are pills. From a medicine bottle. From a drugstore.” Isabel said bluntly.
“Did you know that the past bottle of Betacare your mother purchased was from 2 years ago? Isn’t it odd? Why do you think she hasn’t run out of them yet? She uses them a lot to help those around her.” Ivan continued to push questions at her.
“I don’t know!” Isabel snapped.
“Clearly, and that’s where things went wrong, isn’t it? I’ll let you in on a little secret.” Ivan was starting to enjoy himself. “Your mother never gave out real pills. They’re placebos.” Ivan revealed the key to solving the case. “They have no medicinal content whatsoever. She gives everyone a little pill full of sugar, and they believe in her so much they actually work.”
Isabel started to panic, “So?” Tears started pooling in the corners of her eyes.
“So, we examined the bodies of the bride and groom and the last thing they both ate was a real Betacare pill - from a brand new bottle in your mother’s purse that she never purchased. She original bottle of placebos was missing. And guess what we found in your bag?”
“You can’t just go through my bag!” Isabel yelled, she started to stand, as if to fetch her belongings, then thought better of it and sat again.
“We’re the police. It’s our job to investigate our suspects.” Ivan snapped, “Want to tell me why you have your mother’s sugar pills while your most recent purchase of Betacare is in her possession?”
Isabel floundered internally, panic showing in her eyes as she tried to come up with a lie on the spot. “She made me do it. I bought it for her and we swapped.” she blurted.
“So you gave her a new, unopened bottle of Betacare pills?” Ivan asked, unconvinced.
“Yes.” Isabel said firmly, sticking to her tall tale.
“That’s odd. We found your fingerprints on the gel casing of every pill.” Ivan said, “in fact, lab results and hard evidence all lead to you as the one who poisoned them. What was that about a brand new unopened bottle again?”
Isabel bit her lip, caught in her own lie.
“Give it up, Isabel. The pills were the causes of death of Joyce and Nathan. You’ve always had a good relationship with your brother, why did you kill him?” Ivan could see she was cracking.
“I never meant to hurt him!” Isabel screeched, not hiding her tears now.
Isabel stood by the morgue, replaying the moment her brother’s body was wheeled inside in her mind. It was a coincidence. It had to be. It had to be Joyce’s fault. Justice had been served. She had to convince herself that it was Joyce who killed her brother. Joyce was always trouble. Joyce was punished for what she did. Justice was served.
“She killed him,” Isabel whispered, “It was her.”
“Who?” Ivan was lost. Isabel had been quite for a moment, presumably remembering what she did, and now she was making disjointed accusations.
“Joyce!” Isabel yelled, “It was always Joyce! She was destroying my brother! No one could see past her pretty mask but I saw under it. She was all greed and evil. She wanted the family fortune. She never loved my brother. She killed him for it! She wanted to take my brother away from me! I saved him!”
Ivan observed Isabel’s growing hysterics with measured interest. He had only been looking for a simple confession, but the woman had cracked wide open. He felt a twinge of pity for her when she spoke of her brother. She truly never meant to hurt him, and the pain she felt from his death was just as devastating as the pain felt by others. That didn’t change her crime, though.
“What I don’t understand is why you didn’t hide the evidence. You could have easily made it look like your mother’s fault.” Ivan knew he solved the crime. He was only asking questions to ease his curiosity now.
“I knew she would be found innocent. The investigation would have stopped at her and gone unsolved. I could have hidden everything but…” she whimpered, thinking of her brother. “When I realized that Nathan had died because of me,” she was choking out what she had to say through tears. She had completely given up on lying, only feeling relieved now to let go of her burden, “I think I wanted to get caught,” she whispered, “If only to stop carrying this secret."
Ivan was taken aback. She gave herself in? I suppose she did, he mused. Anyone smart enough to pull off a stunt like that would be able to hide their tracks, but she left the crime with obvious loose ends.
“Joyce deserved what she got,” Isabel’s anger came back for a few seconds before fading into sorrow again, “And I deserve whatever my sentence is – for my brother.”
Case closed, Ivan thought to himself, but he felt emptier than he did before.
Isabel stood in the shadows, watching the funeral. She had been given temporary parole to attend after the detective pulled some strings. She didn't dare join the others in the audience. She mourned alone.