The ER photograph is of a young woman, her hair in a loosely hanging ponytail; the beating she received was so severe her face is little more than a palette of reds and yellows, except for the long, deep bruises under her eyes, so dark they’re almost black. I recognize this injury, and I know it's caused by a blow to the back of the head, violent enough to send the brain slamming forward to the front of the skull. Working in Domestic Assault for the last five years I've seen my share of battered women, and it was only about six months ago they approved my transfer here to the Sexual Assault squad--under "Reason(s) for Transfer Request" I wrote "I want to nail these bastards",and our squad leader, Captain Mollett, told me they liked that upstairs. I'm the only woman in SA, and the guys here were quick to tell me, you never get used to it. And looking at this photograph of the long black bruises under her eyes, I believe them--even with five years in Domestic, it still makes me angry seeing what these bastards do to the women they'll swear in court they love. There isn't anything this little five foot nothing of a girl could possibly have done to deserve what he did to her.

Her name is Mary Ellen Bartelli, 23, married to Jason Nicholas Bartelli, 29; Jason Bartelli is a "person of interest" in a string of sexual assaults. The victims all describe a slightly built man who seemed to appear out of nowhere, attacking them from behind, and because after assaulting them the perpetrator is "gone, like lightning", as one girl stated, at first we thought our guy might have a partner.

A witness remembered seeing someone parked in a station wagon near the site of the first attack, although so far nothing shows either Jason or Mary Ellen ever having owned a station wagon. And it seems unlikely Bartelli found a partner who not only shares his "interests" but also doesn't mind using his own vehicle to chauffeur Jason around from one crime scene to another.

Monday we got a call that Jason Bartelli beat his little five foot nothing of a wife so badly the doctor said in all his years of working in the ER it's the worst case of domestic abuse he's seen. After that, Mary Ellen did the smart thing and moved back in with her folks, so we’re hoping she’ll be willing to come in and talk with us. Sometimes wives know more than they think they know.

Homicide is also looking seriously at Bartelli for the kidnap/murder of Delilah Shaw, a 15 year-old girl last seen walking home from school two weeks ago. They found her Sunday morning with her face so badly beaten her father wasn't sure it was Delilah, at first.  And he says when he saw his daughter that morning before she left for school, she was wearing a pair of earrings he'd just given her--a special jewelry item and custom made.  But no jewelry was found on or around Delilah Shaw.

The coroner reported that, "because no semen is present…, in my opinion Ms. Shaw was repeatedly and forcefully penetrated with a foreign object, smooth and most likely steel", which, coincidentally or not, is what our rape victims all report. Captain Mollett thinks Bartelli's wife is more likely to open up to another woman, and for my part I'm confident I'll get something Homicide can use. Interviewing women who've been abused is never easy.  But growing up I saw my mother go through everything I see these women going through, so all in all, I have a pretty good idea how it must have been for Mary Ellen, living with a man like Jason Bartelli for the last three years.

 ***

Mary Ellen Bartelli literally is five foot nothing, and today her face shows little of the beating she received. Her yellow dress accentuates a petite and perfect figure and she walks as though she's crossing a ballroom floor. Waiting for the coffee I've just offered, she sits down at my desk with her shoulders straight against the chair back and unlike most of the women I see, she is clearly unafraid. By its nature, working sex crimes requires the men around me to regard every woman with a certain nonchalance, but Mary Ellen could turn the head of any man; she seems like the  kind of woman that men want to protect, and the kind that women know don't need protecting.

Captain Mollett stops me at the coffee machine to hand me a file, with a hasty,"ER doctor's report of Mrs. Bartelli's injuries almost forgot to give it you", and hurries off to finish gathering what he needs to meet with homicide detectives working on the Delilah Shaw case. I watch the Captain frantically stacking more files together under his arm. Whatever he's taking into that meeting is information he feels is far more pertinent to putting Bartelli away than what I've just been given. But the Captain's absent-mindedness buys me some time before returning to my desk with the two-creams-no-sugar cup of coffee the girl in the photograph requested, who frankly, at this moment is something of an enigma to me.

The file I’ve just been handed is an unruly stack of various forms and photos, and on top is the picture taken of Mary Ellen in the ER, with the long dark bruises under her eyes. Across the room I hear, "Merci, thank you" in a tone that's both courteous and dismissive, and I see Mary Ellen speaking to a rookie who actually tips his hat as he's handing her my desk phone, which is completely within her reach. He hesitates before leaving as if he's thinking of another way to be of service to her, and there's something in her manner that's unsettling, like she's mimicking behavior she's seen and doesn't really understand. But maybe her apparent fortitude is how she managed to survive the nightmare of living with a man like Jason Bartelli--and she's very young, only 23, and returning to my desk with the promised cup of coffee, I reprimand myself for thinking this little five foot nothing of a girl's behavior strange in any way.

Mary Ellen continues her phone conversation even though I'm back and practically standing over her--and even though she's tying up my phone.  Being a detective I'm a natural-born snoop, and from what I gather she's making plans to meet someone for lunch, which is interesting because I'm certain even Mary Ellen Bartelli doesn't call her girlfriends "darling." There's an earring on the desk in front of her, jeweled and not quite round, in the shape of something like a lizard…no, not a lizard, it's a salamander, a point I'm only aware of because I watch nothing but documentaries in the little bit of free time that I have, and while Mary Ellen chatters on with "Mortimer's ? Oh, tres chic, Mortimer's sounds divine…” I'm trying to recall some salient salamander fact. Unfortunately, the only thing I remember is, according to ancient mythology salamanders can withstand even the hottest flames and live, which only seems pertinent in that living with Jason Bartelli certainly must have been a trial by fire.

She finishes the conversation, finally, with a "Kisses", and as she's putting the earring back in place I say, "Sorry to make you wait this long for coffee this bad,” and as if on cue she answers, "Oh not at all; look where we are--bad coffee goes with the territory." Given the circumstances, her ease and the quickness of this repartee strikes me again as unsettling in some ill-defined way, and noting this to myself, I flip the black-eyed ER photo over.  And what I find I'm still not certain I was ever meant to see.

Captain Mollett was in such a hurry he's accidentally given me part of the file on Delilah Shaw, but I’m not about to interrupt his meeting to point out this mistake.  Under the ER photo of Mary Ellen I see the coroner's photograph with “both lower arms and hands show a clear pattern of defensive wounds" scribbled below it.  But what's far more disturbing than picturing Delilah Shaw fending off her attacker is a form from something called Fidelity Trust that says Delilah’s father insured his daughter’s special earrings. And the description I’m reading tells me why there was no jewelry found on Delilah Shaw.

Peeking over the folder’s edge to find she’s quite at home in the almost all-male room, I take a closer look at Mary Ellen.  Her lightly tanned skin nearly masks the scars on her arms and hands, and while the cops around me trade winks and nod to one another in silent appreciation, when Mary Ellen giggles and tosses her blond hair back, the glint of her jeweled earrings strikes me hard enough I’d swear it sent my brain slamming forward in my skull.

I tell her something’s missing from the file that  I need to complete my paperwork, and ask if it’s possible to re-schedule for say, tomorrow.  She seems a little wary, but with perfect grace she answers, "Not at all, tomorrow's fine." And leading her to the window as though we're crossing a ballroom floor, I say, "Do you have a way to get home—do you need a ride, or did you drive here today ?"

“Oh you’re sweet, really, but I borrowed my sister’s car,” she answers, pointing at the window, but except for the rows of marked police cars, there's only the station wagon that I did not want to see. And with a promise to call me in the morning that I know she'll never keep, like lightning, Mary Ellen's gone.

***

The coroner's photograph is of a young woman, her butchered hair pointing from her head at every angle; the beating she received was so severe her face is nothing more than a swollen mass of purpleblack.  Now I recognize these injuries as a woman’s hand at work, and though wiser women than me already know protection is the last thing Mary Ellen needs, other than a witness statement about a nearby station wagon, and the fact there's not a trace of Jason Bartelli in any of the victims, my certainty of a woman's hand at work is all I have.

On the last day she would live, the earrings that Delilah  Shaw wore were jeweled, and not quite round, and from a distance it would be difficult to see that they were shaped like salamanders; by now they must be resting on the bottom of a river bed somewhere. Going by the ER photograph, Delilah Shaw was strong and fought hard for her life. But my guess is Mary Ellen can withstand the flames of any fire.

As foolish as the risk she took today may seem, Mary Ellen Bartelli is not a stupid woman by a long shot; she possesses a heightened awareness of her surroundings, and that this is also true of women abused by men is something irony alone does not explain. Now when I see the long dark bruises under the eyes of his little five foot nothing of a wife, I’m haunted by the thought that in Jason Bartelli’s place, I might act as I assumed he did and as I condemned him for; there isn't anything Delilah Shaw could possibly have done to deserve what Mary Ellen Bartelli did to her.

 

 

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