The Succubus

“James Murray I presume?” I asked, shaking the man’s hand.

“The one and only,” he responded, pumping twice, firm, a good handshake.

“Come on in,” he said, stepping to the side of the open door.

The room I entered was small, just like the waiting room had been. There were two leather chairs in the South West and North West corners, these facing a third leather chair in the North East corner, and this chair had a matching footrest positioned in front of it. This was, no doubt, James Murray’s chair. There were notebooks and folders on a side table, but the room was too small to hold a couch, that old therapist cliché. There was a huge window with the blinds down but slit open, and the clanking, semi-musical noise from Market Street below was apparent. There were no degrees on the walls, and there hadn’t been any in the waiting room either. James Murray was a bargain. He hadn’t been in private practice very long.

“Have a seat,” he said, taking his chair and putting up his feet.

I sat down in the South West seat, caty corner to him. I thought again about the lack of degrees. Were therapists compelled to post them if they had them? Was James Murray so cheap that he didn’t even have any yet? Looking at him, a rotund bald man with glasses and thick, tattooed arms, I wondered if I could have gone any cheaper. His was the name I was referred to when I told the woman who answered the counseling center’s phone that I was on a budget. I didn’t need any drugs. I wasn’t depressed. This would be the only time I’d see Mr. Murray professionally.

“I just need to get something off my chest,” I said. “I’ve had it on my mind for a long time now, and I want to see what someone else thinks about it.”

“Very well,” came the response.

“I don’t think it will take an hour to tell you, then I want you to tell me what you think.”

A brief silence.

“It has very little to do with me, actually. I’m an Oakland Police homicide detective, and I had an unusual one.”

James Murray looked at me steadily. I wondered if he had any presuppositions about me based on my occupation. He certainly wouldn’t have been the first.

“It doesn’t matter what you think of me,” I said. “A lot of people distrust the police. You’re white, I guess you’re not the usual suspect as far as that is concerned. But I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of things, seen a lot of movies, you know, have some biases.”

There was a slight shaking of his bald head, and an innocent looking smile. He was dodging me.

“Okay, maybe I’m just paranoid. Over sensitive. I’ve seen all types in my life.”

“Are you married?” the doctor asked, surprising me.

“Yes I am, actually.”

“Have you told your wife what you’re about to tell me?”

“No I haven’t.”

“Huh.”

“You find that interesting?”

“I do actually.”

“I don’t talk to her too much about my work. I don’t want to ruin her day.”

“You’re afraid you would distress her?”

“I guess I am.”

The man wasn’t bad.

There was a silence. James Murray was still looking at me neutrally. I wondered if he’d been trained not to be the first to break eye contact. It made him seem in control.

“It’s about a married couple, it was strange,” I said. “If you watch the news you might have heard about it.”

James kept looking at me.

“A man killed his wife in bed. He called to report it the next morning.”

I took a breath. I actually wasn’t sure where to start. I wondered if I would end up talking about myself when I meant to talk about the case. I wondered if I had anything to say about myself to start with. I supposed I could start anywhere.

“I had just gotten into work in the morning when I got the call. I remember because I was early that day, and I was tired. I hadn’t slept well the night before. The old lady and I had gotten into it. Our daughter is looking at colleges, and I guess I haven’t really been present in the process. She’s going through a lot of stress, and she’s not the happiest kid in the world. We’ve caught her smoking marijuana. It’s embarrassing.”

I let out a laugh. It might have sounded fake.

“But I digress! I was supposed to be talking about the case.”

James made no response. It felt like something of a challenge, the eye contact, how long we could look at each other. It made me feel like scaring him. He didn’t look like much to me.

“It was the first call of the day,” I continued. “The first time my phone rang. The operator gave me the address and the crime scene info. It was already unusual because of its location, a quiet street in Rockridge.”

“I’m sorry I’m unfamiliar.”

“It has a BART station. Rockridge. One of Oakland’s swanky areas. Big old craftsman houses, leafy trees, College Avenue.”

A pause.

“I guess you don’t know much about Oakland.”

“No I do not.”

“Anyway, I knew who the man was by this time, and I knew he wasn’t some lowlife, some gangbanger. He was a professor at UC Berkeley, an immigrant from Romania, an upstanding citizen, not the kind of person we typically get the call about.”

“He was identified to you in the call?”

“No, just the address. The dispatcher said it looked like a case of domestic abuse.”

“I see.”

“So me and my partner drove up to Rockridge and found the house. There were a couple of cruisers there, and a little crowd across the street watching. The patrolmen already had Mr. Cosima locked up in a car. They had no doubt about it.

“We found Mrs. Cosima’s body in their bedroom on the second floor. It was a fresh crime scene. No one had touched the body.”

I paused.

“In case you were wondering, I’m used to it, seeing death. It was just strange the place and standing of the offender. But still, nothing that didn’t happen every once in a while.”

“Domestic calls.”

“Uh-huh. Domestics. The number one killer of wives, I always say, is husbands.”

No response from Mr. Murray. Another silence descended, broken by the sounds of a street performer down on the street singing a song I couldn’t understand.

“Anyways, the crime scene was fresh. The covers on the bed were tangled and bunched up down at the foot. The room was clean. There were no clothes on the floor. Mrs. Cosima, first name Sandila, was on her back, on the bed, staring at the ceiling. There were bruises on her neck. Her neck was crushed in. She had been strangled. I had no doubt that’s what happened, and that’s what the coroner reported after the autopsy. It all looked like something that is very easily explainable. It looked like the husband had strangled his wife.”

“That’s what I gathered from the news.”

“Okay, but do you know what the husband had to say for himself?”

“I suppose I can’t remember.”

“Then you haven’t heard the best part, in my humble opinion.”

“The reason you’re here talking to me today?”

“That’s right.”

“Well please don’t let me stop you.”

“Are you curious?” I asked.

“I guess I am.”

I supposed I’d built up enough suspense.

“It was him who had called us,” I said. “Mr. Cosima. He told us his wife had been murdered in the bed they shared, but he didn’t confess. He didn’t say he was guilty. He said he woke up and found her like that.”

The therapist nodded. “That’s what I remember hearing.”

“He couldn’t remember killing his wife,” I said. “He went to sleep, woke up, and found her like that, stiff as a board he said. Then he called the police. The police showed up and put him in cuffs after only one looksee at the scene. But he claimed innocence. He did the same to me and Luis when we interrogated him.”

There was silence. I felt a strange kind of pressure. I wondered what I was saying about myself as I told the story.

“He was tearful. He was grieving. He was in a state.”

“You believed him?”

I paused. I took a Kleenex from the box on the little bookshelf right next to me and I hocked snot into it. I wouldn’t cry, what the Kleenex box was no doubt there for, but I felt awkward.

“I guess I did,” I said.

“That does sound strange.”

“I know it does. But he was really torn up, this guy. I have no doubt that he would have passed a polygraph. I know a lie when I see one, and there was no lie here.”

I listened to Market Street. I threw the snotty Kleenex in the little wastebasket by my chair.

“I know a lie when I see one,” I repeated, “and this guy didn’t even have a motive. He said he was happy with his wife. He told me to check with everyone he knew and they would say the same thing, that the two of them were happy.”

The therapist was still silent, still looking at me levelly.

“So you believe you arrested an innocent man?” he asked.

“I do. It doesn’t make sense.”

I looked at the clock on the little bookshelf next to the cat sculpture. I had been here about fifteen minutes.

“I wanted to clear the guy. But forensics said the bruises on his wife’s neck matched a plaster mold of the man’s hands. There was no doubt about it. We had our man.”

“Huh.”

“He’s still in jail. But this was his defense.”

“What?”

“That he was sleepwalking.”

I let that sink in.

“He had a history of sleepwalking,” I said.

“He killed his wife in his sleep?”

“It appears that way.”

“Wow. The poor man.”

“I know, right?”

I watched James Murray, still with that neutral expression on his face. The longer the silence held the stranger I felt.

“I don’t have a happy marriage,” I said. “I recently discovered my wife was having an affair.”

Still nothing in James Murray’s eyes.

“I wanted to kill her,” I said, just for the effect.

“That’s very serious,” came the reply.

“I know it is. But I never would. I’m not that kind of man.”

“But you think Mr. Cosima was?”

“That’s the thing, I could tell that he wasn’t! A little emotional maybe, but that might come with being from Romania. He had an accent, you know? He was quiet and he struck me as gentle. A big guy, but gentle.”

“But he killed his wife.”

“Yeah, but he has no memory of doing it. It’s like it wasn’t him.”

“Is that how you felt towards your wife?”

“What?”

“That it wasn’t you who wanted to kill her?”

“You’ve got me all wrong, doctor. I don’t want to kill my wife.”

“Then why are you telling me this story?”

“But it’s not me. It’s Mr. Cosima. There’s no explanation.”

“He’s a sleepwalker. There’s your explanation.”

“Yeah but still. It must have been in him somewhere, that compulsion. Hiding. Right? It’s such a thing to murder another human being. Especially the person you live with, the mother of your children.”

“Mr. Cosima had a child?”

“A twenty-year old son. Off at UCLA.”

“Just like you. A child on the wing.”

I found this connection to be tenuous. I did not reply.

More silence. James Murray broke it:

“It makes me think about something. Have you ever watched The X-Files?”

“The show? Maybe once or twice.”

“There’s one episode where Mulder and Scully’s supervisor, Assistant Director Skinner, is found in bed with a dead prostitute with no memory of having killed her.”

I didn’t say anything. I wondered if Mr. Murray had a point.

“Skinner was often the interlocutor between the show’s heroes and their enemies. He was being blackmailed by the death, and it turned out that it wasn’t him, it was a succubus.”

“A succubus?”

Mr. Murray nodded. “An evil spirit that attacks people in their sleep. He had memories of having sex with the young woman, but then she turned into a horrible crone with wrinkles and white hair, and that’s the last thing he remembers.”

“You think a succubus killed the man’s wife?”

“It’s just a thought.”

“It’s a stupid thought,” I charged. “It’s obvious that Mr. Cosima killed his wife. There is so much incriminating evidence.”

“Except for the man, and you yourself, right?”

“Okay.”

“It pays to have an open mind sometimes.”

“In my line of work we place more emphasis on facts than mythology.”

There was another pause. Then Mr. Murray continued, pushing me:

“Why do you think this story affected you?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Maybe you have more reason to seek therapy than you think.”

“Maybe I do.”

I thought less of the therapist because of what he’d just said. There was no connection whatsoever between The X-Files and the case. There is nothing paranormal about the world. I know that for a fact. I knew that Mr. Cosima killed his wife, I just didn’t feel good about arresting him for it.

I looked at the clock again. I had been here twenty minutes. There was still thirty minutes left.

I wondered if I had made a mistake coming to see him.

“I don’t know what else to talk about,” I said.

“Well what’s on your mind?” he asked.

I shook my head. I didn’t say anything. We sat together and I realized that I had not achieved what I had come here for, hoping that two minds would be better than one. Now I was thinking about myself, my own wife, and, now, the succubus. I hoped she wouldn’t visit me as she had visited Mr. Cosima. I was angry at the therapist for even bringing it up, but I didn’t tell him. So we sat, staring at each other.

I looked again at the clock. I continued to look, every couple minutes. Then, before I knew it, our time was up.

“Well that’s your fifty minutes,” said Mr. Murray. “I hope I’ve been a help to you.”

I didn’t answer. I stood up and left. I wouldn’t kill my wife, I told myself on the way out. But that had been the implication, the point of Mr. Murray’s story about the succubus. Only it made you think. What, on Earth, was going to happen when the lights were out and my cheating wife was by my side, with our angsty teenager just down the hall?

I called Mr. Murray a few days later and made another appointment. Mr. Cosima’s trial came and went, and he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. I almost wish I had been called to testify. Maybe I would have told them about the succubus, that some things really had no explanation, and because of that the man deserved sympathy. He didn’t want to kill his wife. It just happened. Who knows what kind of energy lies concealed in every one of us.

The next time I saw Mr. Murray I spoke exclusively about myself and my wife. As it turned out I had a lot to say. Who knows, maybe James Murray saved her life. The succubus didn’t come to visit us, and my wife broke off her affair. And Mr. Murray listened, once a week, as I told him all about it.

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