Imagine you’re shipwrecked on an island inhabited by only Knights and Knaves. Knights always tell the truth. Knaves always lie. There is no way to distinguish between the two just by looking at them. The only way to separate the liars from the truth-tellers is by asking them questions.
For example, suppose you encounter two islanders. Let’s call them A and B. You ask A, “Are you a Knight or a Knave?” A responds by saying, “At least one of us is a Knave.” B is silent.
Who is a Knight and who is a Knave?
The answer is easy. A cannot be a Knave, because if so, his statement would be truthful, and Knaves always lie. Therefore A must be a Knight, and telling the truth. Which would mean B is a Knave.
In real life, of course, there are no such things as Knights, those absolute keepers of the truth.
Everyone lies about something.
It was a perfectly normal school morning in the Campbell household—disorganized, chaotic and at least one of my children was running around half-naked—right up until the moment the police arrived at our front door to question me in connection with the death of Howard Grant.
Before the doorbell rang—before everything changed—my most pressing concern was not to overcook the eggs I was scrambling for our breakfast.
I had learned through practice and error that the key to perfectly scrambled eggs was to keep the heat low. As I slowly stirred the eggs with a flat whisk, a flash of movement outside caught my eye. I turned to glance out the kitchen window, which overlooked our side yard and the street beyond. Our next-door neighbour Judy Ward was walking her fat dachshund, Rocket, down the sidewalk. Judy was carrying a green plastic bag of dog poop in one hand and Rocket’s leash in the other. The dog was panting so heavily, he looked like he was about to keel over.
“Mom, where’re my shorts?” Liam yelled from his room, which was located on the other side of our one-story house. When I didn’t answer, he shouted again. “Mom! I can’t find my uniform shorts!”
I drew in a deep breath and counted to five to stop myself from yelling back that if my son needed something, he should walk across the house and ask me politely. Sure enough, the thud-thud-thud of large thirteen-year-old feet stampeded across our ceramic tile floor. Liam appeared in the kitchen, wearing only a navy polo shirt with his school logo on it and white cotton briefs. Liam had my husband’s unruly dark curls and lopsided smile, but his wide, pale blue eyes and long, straight nose came from me. He was getting so tall, officially a teenager, but still child enough to run around in his underwear. I loved him so, this wild boy of mine.
“I can’t find any clean shorts,” Liam said. He balanced on one leg like a crane and began to hop in place.
“Why are you hopping?”
“Because I can,” Liam said carelessly. “Have you seen my shorts?”
“Did you look in the dryer?”
Liam snapped his fingers. “The dryer,” he repeated, drawing out the word and then hopping out of the room. I smiled, watching him go.
“Breakfast will be ready in five minutes. And don’t forget your belt,” I called after him. Despite going to the same school with the same dress code for seven years, Liam still forgot to put on a belt at least every other day.
“I know!” he yelled back.
I turned the burner off under the eggs, pulled out a loaf of whole wheat bread from the pantry and started on the toast. I noticed that the pears in the wire fruit bowl were starting to look bruised. I picked one up, and the flesh gave way, my fingers sinking into the rotten fruit. I shuddered and tossed it in the garbage.
This time it was my daughter calling for me. Bridget, at eleven, was more organized than her older brother would ever be. She was already dressed in her school uniform, the same blue polo with the crest embroidered on the left chest, tucked neatly into a knee-length khaki skirt. Her long strawberry blond hair—just a shade lighter than mine—was tied back in a low ponytail, and she was holding a piece of white poster board with pictures and snippets of text neatly glued to it. It was her state capital report, which she had diligently worked on for the past two evenings.
“How are you going to bring that into school?” I asked as I turned to the sink to wash my hands. “I don’t think it will fit in your backpack.”
“It won’t,” Bridget confirmed. “But it’s going to get all bent if I carry it in like this.”
“Maybe we can roll it up and put a rubber band around it,” I suggested. “Go see if Dad has one in the office.”
“Okay.” Bridget trooped off toward our home office. Todd habitually checked his email on the desktop computer there every morning as he drank his coffee.
“Liam, did you find your shorts?” I called out.
“Oh, right. I forgot to look,” he responded. There was another flurry of heavy footsteps, the metallic thwack of the dryer door being opened and slammed closed. “Got ’em!”
Bridget returned, this time with Todd trailing her. My husband was a tall, broad-shouldered man with milk-pale skin and dark eyes. Todd’s dark hair was still thick, but it was becoming increasingly streaked with gray. I’d also noticed that lately he’d started wearing his tortoiseshell reading glasses more frequently.
“I don’t have any rubber bands,” Todd said.
“Oh, no! What are we going to do?” Bridget asked fretfully, her voice thin and sharp. Yes, my daughter was far more organized than my son, but her moods shifted so much faster. Joy one moment, tears the next. I worried constantly that the stormy emotional seas she traversed each day would one day capsize her.
“Don’t worry,” I soothed her. “Can’t you use a hair elastic?”
Bridget brightened at this suggestion. “Oh, yeah! I didn’t think of that!” she said and scuttled off to the bathroom the children shared to find one of the four million hair elastics that lived in the flotsam and jetsam of the drawers there.
Todd smiled at me. “Good save,” he said, crinkles appearing at the corners of his eyes. He rested a hand on my shoulder.
“I have my moments,” I said, turning back to the sink so that his hand fell away.
Todd had been trying lately. I had to give him credit for that, even if I wasn’t particularly charmed by his efforts. I wondered, fleetingly, if our marriage would ever return to the warm, secure place it had once been.
But then, before I could become too maudlin, remembering past happiness and the unlikeliness of its return, the doorbell rang. I looked up, wondering who it was. No one ever rang the doorbell before nine.
“Who do you think that is?” Todd asked.
I bit back my involuntary response. How should I know? Censoring oneself was necessary to a happy marriage. Or, in our case, to keeping an unhappy marriage from spiraling even further downward.
Don’t mess with one another, Dr. Keller, our marriage counselor, had suggested. Don’t drink too much. Don’t pick fights.
Don’t be too truthful, I’d privately added to the list. Honesty was overrated, especially within the boundaries of a troubled marriage. Actually, these days, I was starting to think that couples therapy itself was overrated. Was it really necessary to pay Dr. Keller an exorbitant rate just so we could have someone watch as we salted each other’s wounds once a week? Nothing ever scabbed over and healed when you kept picking at it. There was an undeniable wisdom to the old saying Least said, sooner mended.
I made a mental note to cancel our next session.
“It’s probably one of the neighbors,” I said. “Maybe someone has a dead car battery and needs a jump.”
Todd nodded and went off to answer the door just as the toast popped up. Whoever was at the house, they were arriving just as breakfast was ready. I checked the toast and decided to drop it down for further browning.
I heard the low murmur of Todd as he spoke, but I didn’t recognize the voices that responded. One male, one female, I thought. I couldn’t hear what Todd said in reply, but something about his tone sounded off. The smell of burning bread filled my nose. I popped the toast up. It was now charred black. I swore softly, feeling another flash of irritation at the interruption to our morning routine.
“Are you okay, Mom?” Bridget asked, appearing in the kitchen.
“Gross,” Bridget said. “Burned?”
“Burned,” I confirmed.
“I’m not eating that,” Bridget said, pointing an accusatory finger.
“No one’s asking you to.” I plucked the bread out of the toaster and tossed it in the garbage can. “I’ll make some more.”
“Who are those people Daddy’s talking to?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “Why?”
“He looks worried,” Bridget said.
I inserted a few fresh slices of bread into the toaster and put a lid on the pan of eggs to keep them warm.
“I’ll find out what’s going on,” I said. “Are your hands clean? No? Go wash them. Breakfast is almost ready.”
I passed through the open-plan living room with its well-worn brown leather sofas and floral wool rug, all overdue for replacement, out to the front hall. Todd was standing slightly to one side of the open door, so I had a clear view of the man and woman on our front step. Both were dressed in suits that looked too warm for a sunny April Florida morning. The automatic sprinklers switched on then and began spraying water across the browning lawn with rat-a-tat-tat efficiency.
“Who is it?” I asked.
Todd turned to me. Bridget was right, he did look worried.
“They’re police officers,” he said. “Detectives…” Todd’s voice trailed off as he turned back to look at our visitors. “Sorry, I’ve forgotten your names.”
“I’m Detective Alex Demer.” The detective was tall and bulky and had dark, pockmarked skin and a closely cropped beard. “And this is Sergeant Sofia Oliver.”
“I’m Alice Campbell,” I replied. Neither of them offered a hand to shake, so I followed their lead.
Oliver was the younger of the two. She was petite and fineboned, and her auburn hair was cut short in a pixie style. Her lips rounded down, and her eyes were flinty. My best friend, Kat, would call it a “resting bitch face.” In Oliver’s case, it was an accurate description.
“Th-they want to talk to you about Howard Grant,” Todd stammered. Howard Grant. Kat’s husband. Or, to be more accurate, her late husband. Howard had died three days earlier. The shock of his death still hit me anew every time I thought of it.
“Oh, right. Of course. You’re with the Jupiter Island Police?” I guessed. Kat and Howard lived—or in Howard’s case, had lived—on tony Jupiter Island. While their home was close geographically to where we lived, in the Town of Jupiter, the island was its own separate and quite exclusive municipality.
“The Jupiter Island Public Safety Department,” Sergeant Oliver corrected me, her tone needlessly officious.
“Actually, Sergeant Oliver is with the Jupiter Island Public Safety Department,” Detective Demer said. “I’m with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement based in Tallahassee. I’ve been temporarily assigned to look into Howard Grant’s death.”
“I thought Howard’s death was an accident,” I said.
Detective Demer gazed down at me, his expression inscrutable. “That’s what we’re looking into. And that’s why we need to speak with you.”
“Of course. Please, come in,” I said, stepping aside to give them room.
Todd shook his head, and I could tell from his expression that I was missing something important.
“Alice, they want you to go with them,” my husband emphasized. “To the police station.”
“Really?” I looked at the police officers. “Why?”
Demer held up a placating hand. “It’s nothing to worry about, Mrs. Campbell. Your name came up in the course of our investigation, and we have some questions for you. It’s all very routine.”
I nodded slowly. I didn’t understand why the conversation couldn’t take place in our living room. And if they wanted me to come to them, why hadn’t they just called? What was the point of showing up on my doorstep first thing in the morning?
“What’s going on?” Liam asked, appearing behind me. He had his shorts on now, thankfully, but was still not wearing a belt.
“Nothing,” I said. “The eggs are ready. Go serve yourself. I’ll be right in. And don’t forget to put on a belt.”
“I’m sorry if we’ve come at a bad time,” Demer said. He did look as though he regretted the imposition. Maybe he had children of his own back in Tallahassee and knew how chaotic the mornings could be. I nodded and smiled faintly to signal that I understood he was just doing his job.
“When would you like me to come in?” I asked.
“As soon as possible,” Oliver snapped. In contrast to her colleague, she didn’t seem at all sheepish about appearing on my doorstep before 8:00 a.m. and disrupting our routine. “In fact, we’d like you to come with us now.”
I shook my head. “That’s impossible. I have to finish helping my children get ready for school and then drive them in. I can meet you after that.”
“How long will that be?” Demer asked.
In truth, it took me only twenty minutes to complete the school run. But I was currently wearing a ratty old T-shirt of Todd’s and a pair of jogging shorts. I’d never put much thought into what one wore to a police interview, but I was fairly sure this was not the ideal outfit.
“Where is the Jupiter Island Public Safety Department located?”
I asked, wondering why it couldn’t just be called a police department. Was that somehow offensive to the extremely wealthy residents of Jupiter Island? Were police necessary only for regular citizens? The marked differences between the very rich and everyone else reared up at the oddest times, even in our so-called equal society.
“On Bunker Hill Road in the old town hall building,” Oliver said.
I mentally calculated how long it would take me to get the kids off to school, get dressed and drive there. “I could be there in two hours.”
The police officers exchanged a look, but Demer nodded. “We’ll see you then,” he said.
Once the front door was closed and we were alone again, my husband looked anxiously at me.
“What’s going on? Why do the police want to talk to you?” Todd hissed, keeping his voice low so Liam and Bridget wouldn’t hear.
Children have superhuman hearing when it comes to picking up on any brewing parental conflict.
“I have no idea,” I said. “But Howard’s death was…odd.” An understatement, to say the least. “I’m sure they have to investigate. Make sure there wasn’t any…I don’t know, foul play.”
Foul play. It was such a melodramatic phrase, like something out of an Agatha Christie novel. Murderous vicars and little old ladies who put arsenic in the tea.
“But why do they think you’d know anything about it?”
“I’m sure they don’t.” I shrugged. “But they obviously know that Kat and I are friends.”
“I don’t think you should speak to the police without having an attorney present.”
“What? Why? I’m not a suspect,” I said.
“How do you know?”
“Because that would be insane,” I said. I shook my head. “Look, I’m sure they have to investigate, even when the death was clearly accidental. It’s certainly nothing to worry about.”
“Then why are the police at our door at eight in the morning,” Todd pointed out.
“I have no idea, but there’s no reason to overreact,” I said, turning away. “I have to go check on the kids. If I don’t pay attention, Liam eats all the toast and none of his eggs, and Bridget doesn’t eat anything at all.”
My husband grabbed my arm and spun me back toward him. He leaned forward, his face close to mine, and whispered, “What’s going on? Did Kat have something to do with Howard’s death?”
His breath was hot and smelled of coffee. I pulled my arm out of his grip and took a step back. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course she didn’t.”
Todd wasn’t sure if he should believe me. I could tell by the way he was searching my face, looking for some trace of a lie in the way I blinked my eyes or clenched my jaw.
Like a visitor to the island of Knights and Knaves, Todd wanted to try his hand at ferreting out the liars.
I felt a stab of fear and hoped I was more convincing when I spoke to the police.
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