I – What Am I Doing Here?
“Sir, are you all right?”
Startled awake, Justin opens his eyes and looks up through the pelting rain at two police officers hovering over him. Every part of his body including his head hurts like hell. He flicks his tongue several times in an attempt to clear the cotton out of his mouth.
He tries to lift his head, but finds it too difficult and drops it back down smacking it on the pavement. “Ouch!”
As he rubs the back of his head, his mind screams out, Pavement? He becomes dizzy and closes his eyes to keep from getting sick. The rain comes down harder; Justin opens his eyes and looks around.
What am I doing in an alley? My God, what has happened to me?
He takes a deep breath to clear his head. What is that sickening smell?
Another sniff tells him all he needs to know. He recognizes the odor all too well. He reeked of booze.
That's impossible. I haven't had a drink in over a year. Resting his head on the pavement, he tries to remember what happened last night.
“Sir, can you hear me? Can you stand up?”
Shaking his head to clear out the cobwebs, Justin responds, “I think so. Give me a minute to get oriented, would you?”
Justin reaches up to rub his temples and something falls out of his hand. He hears a splash and twists his head to see what fell. When he can’t find it, he rolls over on his side to get a better look. In a shallow pool of water next to his head is a stainless steel necklace with a strange looking key attached to it. He picks up the key, wipes the grime off it on his pants, and studies it.
It was a small key shaped like a ‘P’ with notches on both edges. He flips the key over and sees letters and numbers stamped into the metal. Holding the key further away because of his recently diagnosed farsightedness, it becomes clear. Justin mumbles, “PP-12-257.” What the hell?
“Sir, I won’t ask you again, you need to stand up now.”
“Okay, just give me a moment to get my legs.” Justin shoves the key in his pants pocket and struggles to his feet. Once up, he finds he needs to brace his hands on his knees to steady himself.
Justin looks up at the two policeman and comments, “The least you could have done was help me up.” It was then he notices that they both have their hands on their guns. “Hold on a minute, guys ... I'm just joking.”
The younger of the two officers holds a piece of paper and compares what is on it to Justin. “Male, Caucasian, 6’4” tall, 205 pounds, brown hair with some gray, gray eyes, 45 years old.” He looks at the other officer and asks, “What do you think?”
The older officer nods and replies, “That’s him, all right.” He looks at Justin while drawing his weapon, “Are you Justin Seaborne?”
“Yes, what’s going on, officer?”
“Sir, turn around and place your hands on the wall and spread your legs.”
With a little anger mixed in with fear, Justin snorts, “No, I don’t want to turn around. Why am I being treated like some kind of a criminal?”
As the two officers level their guns on Justin, the one with the paper orders, “Sir, I don't want to tell you again. Turn around and face the wall!”
Justin gets the message, raises his hands and replies, “Okay–okay–I'm turning.”
The next thing he knows one of the officers frisks Justin, cuffs him, and reads him his rights. Next, they shuffle him into the back of the cruiser. He tries to make conversation with the officers, but they won't tell him a thing. When the two officers roll down their windows, Justin realizes how terrible he smells.
Looking at his dirty and bruised hands, Justin wipes them on his soaking wet pants. He notices his badly scuffed wingtips and rubs them on the back of each pant leg. Did I crawl through the alley on my hands and knees?
II – Mirandized
At the police station, the officers guide Justin into an interrogation room and cuff him to the table. He sits alone for what seems like an hour before two men walk in. For several minutes the men just look at Justin without speaking. Finally, the red-haired one–perhaps in his early forties–says, “Mr. Seaborne, I am Detective Abrams and this is Detective Carlson. Have you been read your Rights yet?”
“My Rights?” Justin’s head snaps back and forth between the two detectives. “Why do I need to be read my Rights?”
“Well then, just to be safe.” Abrams fishes out a card from his shirt pocket, slips on his glasses, and starts to read it. “Mr. Seaborne, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you ...”
Pictures form in Justin’s mind as the detective reads him his Rights. Stopping at the supermarket to pick up a bottle of wine for Wayne and Maggie and sparkling cider for himself–arriving at their house around 7:30–”Jeopardy” is on the TV and Maggie is spouting out the answers as she prepares the salmon–Maggie hands him a knife and a bag of carrots to chop up.
“You have the right to an attorney …”
More pictures form in Justin’s head. There is a knock at the door and Wayne excuses himself to answer it–Wayne yells something from the hallway–the lights go out–Maggie screams. He can’t remember anything else.
“Do you understand these Rights as they have been read to you?”
“Just wait a minute. Are you saying I am under arrest?”
Abrams raps his knuckles on the tabletop. “I will ask you again, Mr. Seaborne. Do you understand your Rights?”
Justin nods his head. “Yes–I think so. Will you now answer me? Why am I under arrest?”
Carlson, the other detective with a large potbelly, receding hairline, and wearing a sport coat two sizes too small, answers, “Mr. Seaborne, you are being charged with the murder of Wayne and Margaret Benson. Would you like to tell us what happened?”
“What did you just say? Maggie and Wayne are dead? That's impossible; I was just with them last night.”
Carlson leans forward and puts his hands on the table with his palms up. “Mr. Seaborne, we want to help you out here, but you first need to help us out by telling the truth. Did the Bensons do something to upset you? Is that why you killed them? Did you go into some kind of uncontrollable drunken rage?”
“You're out of your mind!” Justin tries to jump up, but the hands cuffed to the table jerk him back into his chair. “I haven’t killed anyone–let alone my two best friends. We had dinner last night; nothing more.” Justin tries to sit back in his chair, but the restraints won’t let him. “Furthermore, I don't drink. I haven't had a drink in ... let's see ... 431 days.”
Abrams shakes his head as he runs his fingers through his slicked-back black hair. “Mr. Seaborne, will you believe me when we tell you that your denial is a little hard to swallow? First, you couldn't have been with the Bensons last night. They were killed two nights ago. Second, we have your fingerprints all over the house as well as on the murder weapon. Third, have you smelled yourself?
You were not only drunk; you must have taken a bath in whatever rotgut you were drinking. Now, would you care to revise your story?”
Justin’s lips tighten as he cocks his head to the side. “I'll say it again. No matter how I smell or look, I haven't killed anyone. Furthermore, I haven't had a drink in over a year.”
Justin searches the eyes of both detectives, but can’t gain any insight into what is going on. He shakes his head. “Wayne and Maggie can’t be dead. I was just with them last night.”
“Well, Mr. Seaborne, it appears you haven't been listening.” Abrams looks over at his partner before continuing. “We have all the evidence we need for an indictment. You’re going to be charged and convicted of first degree murder.”
Carlson leans forward and lowers his voice. “We are giving you a chance to tell your side of the story. If you could just explain what the Bensons did to you or what happened that night, it might help us understand why you killed them. And with the right explanation, maybe we could recommend to the D.A. a lesser charge–you know, take the death penalty off the table.”
“The death penalty? What the hell are you talking about?”
“Or, was it self-defense? Is that what happened, Mr. Seaborne? Did you feel threatened by something they did?” Abrams asks. “Were you just trying to defend yourself? If that was the case, maybe you could plead this down to involuntary manslaughter. But, the only way we can help you is if you tell us what happened.”
“Why won’t you listen to me,” Justin screams. “I didn't kill them. Yes, I was with them last night. I went to their house for dinner.” He drops his head into his hands and his voice falters as he reiterates,
“I didn’t kill them. Why would I kill my best friends?” Exhausted, Justin's chin sinks to his chest. ”You’ve got to believe me.” After a couple of seconds, he murmurs, “Please believe me.”
Carlson stands up, walks around the table, then stands behind Justin. “Mr. Seaborne, you are the one not listening.” The detective leans down to Justin’s ear. “Wayne and Margaret Benson were killed in their home two nights ago.” The detective looks at his watch. “Approximately 33 hours ago they were brutally murdered in their home; the home you have already admitted to being in at the time.”
Thoughts are flashing through Justin’s head so fast that he can’t concentrate on anything. Two nights ago? That’s impossible. My fingerprints were on the murder weapon–impossible. “My God, was it the butcher knife?”
The comment about the knife gets Carlson’s attention. He pulls a chair over and sits next to Justin. “So you do remember the knife, Mr. Seaborne. Now we are getting somewhere. Are you ready to tell us what happened?”
“No, you don't understand. I was just helping Maggie prepare dinner. I was cutting up the carrots when the lights went out.”
Abrams, nodding his head, starts writing on the pad of paper in front of him. “Good. Once you get this off your chest, Mr. Seaborne, you’ll feel a lot better. Now, tell us exactly how it happened. Did you have one too many drinks? Did you black out or something? Is that what happened?”
“No ... no way. I did not kill them!” Justin realizes the two detectives have an agenda and no matter what he says, it won’t matter to them. “I’m through talking. I want to talk to my lawyer now.”
III – Robert Taylor, Attorney at Law
A police officer escorts Justin to a grimy ten-by-ten holding cell and shoves him in. It smells worse than he does. There are stains of who-knows-what on one of the bunks and on the floor near the open commode.
Justin gags, rushes to the commode, and drops to his knees. All that comes up is bile that burns his throat. He turns to the sink and with cupped hands drinks several gulps of water. The rotten egg smell of the sulfur water makes him gag again.
The officer stands just outside the door and laughs. “How do you like your new accommodations?” he asks as the door slams shut. The metal-striking-metal sound vibrates through Justin’s head making him nauseous again.
Justin glances around the cell and recognizes it for what it is–the drunk-tank.
He had spent a couple of nights in similar surroundings a few years ago when he was still a lush. I forgot how bad it is in here.
Justin shakes his head. If you want to get out of this, Justin, you better start focusing.
He paces the floor as the analytical side of his mind kicks in. He runs through everything he heard and knows about the situation.
· Wayne and Maggie are dead.
· It happened two nights ago.
· Somehow I lost 24-36 hours of my life.
· My fingerprints were on the butcher knife.
· Even though I smell like a drunk, I know I haven't been drinking.
· I was there at the time of the murders.
· The butcher knife is the murder weapon.
· There was no way I could ever kill anyone - let alone my friends.
Still need answers to:
· Who was at the door that night?
· Why did Maggie scream?
· Why can't I remember anything after Maggie's scream?
· Why would anyone kill Wayne and Maggie?
· If I was there when it happened, why am I still alive?
· What happened to me over the last two days?
· How did I end up in an alley across town?
· What is the significance of the key?
The more Justin remembers, the more questions he has.
The guard interrupts his thoughts. “Your lawyer is here.”
The officer leads Justin to a six-by-six windowless room with one small table and two chairs. He handcuffs Justin to the table and leaves the room without saying anything.
Justin notices the fluorescent light flickering and buzzing above him. Then the light goes out. Over the next several minutes the light occasionally flickers, blinks off, then back on; creating a surreal world. Justin closes his eyes. It’s like a tomb in here.
Fortunately, his attorney, Robert Taylor, walks in and breaks Justin’s train of thought.
“Justin, I couldn't believe your call.” Bobby stops and stares at him. “Man, you look like hell and smell even worse.”
Justin tries to rise to greet his friend, but the cuffs won’t let him. “Bobby, you can’t imagine how good it is to see you. Thanks for coming.” He leans forward in his chair and shakes his head. “Look, this is a big mistake. Have you talked to the two detectives?”
“No, they were unavailable. Have you been formally charged yet?”
“Charged? I don’t think so. I was read my Rights and questioned for some time until I asked to speak with my lawyer. The detectives told me I killed Maggie and Wayne. I didn’t do it.”
Bobby takes a seat across from Justin. “I understand. So, you don’t believe you have been booked.
Did they fingerprint you?”
“They didn’t take any pictures of you?”
“No. Is that good?”
“Possibly.” Bobby looks at the ceiling. “What’s with this light?” He shakes his head. “I spoke with the two arresting officers. At roll call this morning, their supervisor told them the most damning piece of evidence is your fingerprints on the butcher knife.”
“Bobby, Maggie asked me to chop up some vegetables with that knife.”
“Okay, that might explain some things.” Bobby sits back in his chair. “Justin, there are two ways we can proceed, but it all depends upon your answer to my next question.”
“Okay, fire away.”
“Even though you said you didn’t do it, I have to ask again.” Bobby leans forward and looks into Justin’s eyes. “Now, answer me straight. Did you do it?”
Justin’s eyes flare, then he shakes his head and stares straight into his friend’s eyes. “Bobby, you know me. You have known me for over eleven years. You have seen me at my worst and even bailed me out of jail several times. You also know what kind of person I am. I might have been a drunk, but there is no way I could ever kill anyone, let alone Wayne and Maggie.”
“I believe you, Justin, but I had to ask.”
Bobby opens up his briefcase and pulls out a pad and pen. “Now, let’s start at the beginning. Tell me everything you know about that night and how you ended up in the alley.”
Over the better part of the next hour, Justin meticulously goes over everything he knows including all the unanswered questions he has. Bobby takes notes and interrupts several times to ask questions of his own.
“What happened to the key?”
“When I was brought to the station, the police officer took everything from me including my shoestrings. The officer said he didn't want me hanging myself in the cell.”
Bobby sits there for several moments staring at his notes. “Okay, I have a couple of thoughts, but first reassure me that you didn't have anything to drink the night of the murder, or since then.”
“Bobby, I swear. I haven't had anything stronger than a Coke or sparkling cider for 431 ... no, make that 432 days. I'm not saying that there weren't a few days I wished I had a shot of Jack Daniels, but no, I am clean and sober.
“I’m glad to hear it, Justin.”
“Also, I haven’t missed an AA meeting in a year and a half. You can ask John Creighton, my sponsor, if you don’t believe me.”
“I believe you, Justin, but I needed to ask.” Bobby pauses for a moment to scratch his balding head while considering everything he knows. “Okay, let me tell you how I think I can get you out of here.”
Bobby goes over his thoughts, point-by-point, and ends by asking if Justin has any questions.
Justin nods his head. “Do you think it’ll work?”
“There is only one way to find out.” Bobby turns and knocks on the door. When the guard opens it, he asks, “Could you ask the two detectives working the case to meet with us?” As the guard closes the door, Bobby grabs the doorknob, and adds, “And, could you have someone change the light in here? This thing is giving me a headache.”
IV – The Blood Test
While the two waited for the detectives, a maintenance man came in with a ladder and changed out the fluorescent light bulb. With the new, brighter light, the room and Justin’s outlook on the situation didn’t look quite as bad.
Twenty minutes later, Abrams and Carlson enter the room. Bobby stands up and shakes hands with the detectives while introducing himself. “Robert Taylor of Donaldson, Jarret, and Taylor. I am Doctor Seaborne’s attorney. I expect to be present anytime you question my client. Furthermore, my client is an integral member of the NSA’s Emergency Response Team–the same team that less than two years ago saved millions of lives when that Chinese submarine melted down right off our coast. I expect that he will be treated with more respect than he has been shown so far.”
Carlson sizes up the attorney before responding. “That is all well and good, Counselor, but all I want to know is whether your client is ready to make a statement?”
Bobby sits down before replying. “No, not at this time.”
“So then why did you drag us down here, Counselor?” asks Abrams.
“My client wants to take a blood test.”
Carlson puts both hands on the table and leans down so that he is less than a foot away from Bobby's face. “Now why in the hell would we want to give him a blood test?”
Bobby could smell the caffeine mixed with cigarettes breath of Carlson, but refuses him the satisfaction of moving back. Instead, he leans forward. “Because it will prove if he has been drinking or taking any other drugs. Once we have the results of the blood test, we can talk some more.”
Carlson shakes his head. “It will prove nothing. It has been at least 36 hours since the murder. The alcohol will already be out of his system.”
Bobby thought for a moment before responding, “Yes, and no. First, if he was as drunk as the officers say he was when arrested, he might still have traces in his system. Second, it would also show if he had any other chemical substances in his system–cocaine, for example.”
Carlson smiles at Bobby, steps back and leans up against the wall. He looks at his partner for a moment. “Okay, let's say we go along with this little game of yours.” He scratches his chin for a moment and continues. “And, what if it shows he is clean like he says? That still doesn't explain his fingerprints on the murder weapon.”
“You're right, detective, but it will prove that he was drug-free and possibly sober at the time. Schedule the blood test and then we can talk again after the results have come back from the lab.”
It was Abrams turn this time. “Okay, and if we do this for you, what will we get in return?”
Bobby has been waiting for this question. “Besides the satisfaction of knowing that you have the wrong man, you mean? Well, yes … Dr. Seaborne will give you a complete statement once we have the results of the test in our hands. Do we have a deal?”
Abrams looks over at Carlson who nods his head. “Deal.”
Carlson grabs the door handle, but Bobby raises his hand to get his attention. “One more thing, gentlemen. If you don't want this thrown out of court before the trial even starts, I would recommend that you get my client some clean clothes, allow him to take a shower and shave, and put him in a clean cell. Do we understand each other?”
Carlson laughs, but then loses the smirk before replying. “You bet. We'll keep our end of the deal and you had better keep yours.”
Bobby stands up and reaches out to shake Carlson’s hand. “How soon can we expect to have the blood drawn?”
Carlson winks at Abrams. “You can expect that our secretary will get right on that, Counselor. Does your client need anything else?
“A decent meal would also be nice, thank you,” replies Bobby with his own wink.
“Yes sir.” Carlson salutes. “We'll have our secretary get right on that also. Is there anything else we can do to make his stay more comfortable?” The two left without giving Bobby an opportunity to reply.
Justin looks up at Bobby. “What happens next?”
“Now we wait. If they keep their end of the bargain, we should have the lab results back in less than twelve hours. One more thing, Justin, the D.A. will probably arraign you tomorrow morning. If we are lucky, we'll have the results back before then. But, I'll tell you right now, don't expect the judge to let you out on bail. This was a double murder and the D.A. will not want you walking the streets and maybe skipping out before the trial. You're in here for the duration or until we can prove you’re innocent.”
If things weren't bad enough, this news crushes Justin’s hopes. “I just thought …”
Bobby sees the change in Justin's demeanor. “You need to hang in there, guy. I'm going to do everything possible to get you off. Now I need you to rack your brain and try to remember anything else that can help our case. I don't care how trivial it might seem to you, it might be important.”
After the nurse draws Justin’s blood, Bobby leaves, but says he will be back. A guard escorts Justin to a holding area. The man hands Justin a towel and orange jumpsuit. “Mr. Seaborne, strip off your clothes, take a shower, and then get dressed.”
After the shower, Justin can’t believe how good he feels. When he is dressed, the guard takes him to a different cell where a tray of food sits on the cot. The smell of food causes Justin’s stomach to growl.
Two hours later, the detectives show up at his cell. Abrams holds a piece of paper in his hand. “The results of the blood test are in. You were right, Mr. Seaborne, the test results show that you had no alcohol left in your system. But, it did show a trace amount of an illegal substance. Would you care to explain that?”
“Illegal substance? Wait a minute; I think my attorney should be here before we talk.”
Carlson clicks his tongue. “We’ll give him a call, Mr. Seaborne, but remember one thing; you promised us a statement if we allowed you to take the blood test.”
V – Special K
Bobby picks up the report and taps the edges several times on the table. “Well, this development is interesting, Justin. The good news is that there isn't even a trace of alcohol in your blood. The bad news is that the report shows Ketamine in your system.”
“Ketamine! What is that?”
“I’ve heard of it. The street name for Ketamine is 'Special K', the date-rape drug. Do you know how that could have shown up in your blood?”
“Date-rape drug? No way, Bobby. I’ve never taken anything like that. In fact, I’ve never taken any illegal drugs in my life. Could it be a false-positive?”
“I don't think so, Justin; the lab did their job and ran the test three times. Look, if you're telling me you don't know anything about this, I believe you.” Bobby sits back in his chair and his eyes search the ceiling tiles for several moments. “I've got an idea. Let me make a couple of phone calls. Just sit tight.”
Justin smiles for the first time since his arrest. “I've nowhere else to go, Bobby.”
Bobby laughs. “It is good to see that you still have a sense of humor. You're going to need it in the days to come. I'll be right back.”
About fifteen minutes later, Bobby returns with a Coke in his hand and a smile on his face. He offers Justin the Coke and sits down. After several moments of silence, Justin asks, “Well, are you going to tell me what you’re smiling about?”
“Well, I just talked to a criminal psychologist our firm retains. He said that Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that has some hallucinogenic effects. It can induce a relaxed feeling, as well as immobility and amnesia. Ketamine is an animal tranquilizer–a powerful drug used on horses and large dogs to make them compliant. He says it has the same effect on humans. It can cause hallucinations and often results in the person experiencing amnesia. That is why Ketamine is the perfect date-rape drug.”
“Amnesia? Maybe that's why I can't remember what happened.” Justin sighs and looks intently at his friend. “My God, Bobby, do you think someone drugged me?”
“Possibly, but I can’t say for sure.” Bobby clasps his hands together and rests his chin on them.
“Justin, when you showered earlier today, do you remember seeing anything unusual on your body? Something like an unexplained bruise?”
Justin's eyes light up as he unbuttons his shirt. “Something like this?” he asks as he pulls his shirt down to reveal his right shoulder.
Bobby reaches out and runs his fingers along a small circular bruise on the rear of Justin's shoulder.
“Yes, something just like that.” Bobby stands up, opens the door, and says to the guard, “Let's get those two detectives in here now.”
When the detectives walk in, Carlson warns, “This better be good, Counselor. I don’t like hot-shot lawyers jerking my chain. You better have something for us."
Bobby introduces another possible scenario as to what happened the night of the murder. Each time one of the detectives offers an objection, Bobby counters with more facts and suppositions.
As he explains his theory on Ketamine, he asks Justin to remove his shirt. “Now, gentlemen, I contend that someone injected my client with this animal tranquilizer. This explains why he has no recollection as to what happened to him or the Bensons.”
Abrams interrupts. “That’s quite a tale, Counselor. I could just as easily call it selective memory. How do you plan to prove your assumption?”
Bobby smiles. “I don't have to prove it, I just have to introduce the theory to the grand jury and let the D.A. disprove it.” Bobby pauses to see the detective's reaction and when they don’t say anything, he adds, “Did you have the Bensons’ blood checked by the medical examiner?”
Carlson's mouth drops open and Justin knows Bobby is on to something. Abrams glances at his partner and sees him shake his head.
Bobby smiles and then goes on the offensive. “Well, gentlemen, before we continue, I recommend you have the coroner take blood and tissue samples from the Bensons’ bodies.” Bobby stands up. “When you have the results of the tests, give me a call. I think you have my number.”
The two detectives look at each other. Abrams cocks his head and grimaces. Carlson nods and says, “Counselor, before you go running off, let’s see how long it will take to get back the results.” Abrams opens the door and walks out with Carlson following behind.
“Now what?” Justin asks.
“Now we wait.” After a brief pause, Bobby adds, “If you believe in God, I might recommend that you pray they find Ketamine in the Bensons' blood.”
VI – Material Witness
In less than an hour, the detectives return. By the expressions on their faces, Justin knows something is up. Carlson hands Bobby a piece of paper. Bobby studies it for a moment and hands it across to Justin.
“So, both victims have Ketamine in their system and both have bruises similar to Justin's. What does the coroner think caused the bruising?”
Abrams pulls the report from Justin's hand before he finishes reading it. “That was a good call, Counselor–or a lucky one. Either way, it doesn't make Mr. Seaborne innocent.”
“Would you mind answering my question, detective? What caused the bruising?”
Carlson jumps in with the answer. “The coroner says the bruising and puncture wounds are consistent with a hypodermic needle possibly fired by a dart gun.”
Bobby glances at Justin and winks. “So, the Bensons, as well as my client, have the same tranquilizer in their blood and similar bruising from needle puncture wounds.” Bobby slides his chair back and looks at both detectives before continuing. “And as experienced detectives, your theory would be what?”
Bobby didn’t let the detectives answer. “My client drugged the Bensons before killing them, drove across town several hours later, doused himself with Jack Daniels, fired a tranquilizer dart into the back of his shoulder, and managed to not only remove the dart, but also make it and the pistol disappear before passing out in an alley. How do you think that will play out in front of a grand jury?”
The detectives’ shoulders fall simultaneously. Neither says anything for several moments. Carlson eventually answers. “Okay, Counselor, your instincts were correct. It doesn't appear that Mr. Seaborne is the murderer. However, he is the only one still alive, besides the murderer, who was in the Bensons' house that night. That makes him a material witness. Is he willing to cooperate and make a statement?”
Bobby hesitates before responding. “My client is more than willing to cooperate with you to help apprehend the killer or killers. First, however, you need to remove these handcuffs, return all of his belongings, and begin treating him like a witness. Do we have a deal?”
Justin recounts the evening of the murders. Only once does he ask for a break so he can go to the bathroom. The detectives seem very interested that the lights went out right after Wayne Benson answered the door. Abrams excuses himself and a few minutes later returns. He hands Carlson a slip of paper.
Carlson reads it, nods, and continues to question Justin. About thirty minutes later, an officer walks in and hands Abrams a note. The detective reads it, hands it to Carlson, who also reads it then slides the note into the file folder on the desk.
“Well, Mr. Seaborne, based upon the information you provided, we had a Crime Scene Unit go back to the house and check out the fuse box. You were right. Someone tampered with it and was kind enough to leave a partial print. CSU is running the print to see if we can get a match.”
Abrams sits down across from Justin. “Mr. Seaborne, are you aware of any reason why someone would want to kill the Bensons?” Justin shakes his head. Abrams adds, “Does anything come to mind–anything at all?”
Justin wants to know that answer as much as anyone does. He goes over everything he knows about the two of them, but nothing comes to mind. “I'm sorry; I wish I could be more help. I can’t think of a reason why anyone would want to kill them. I know I keep on repeating myself, but Wayne and Maggie were good people.”
Bobby leans forward in his chair and asks Justin, “What about the key?”
Justin's face lights up. “I totally forgot about the key.” He looks back at the detectives. “When I woke up in the alley, I had a key and chain in my hand. It’s a funny looking thing with some numbers stamped on it.”
Abrams leans forward and asks, “Where is the key now?”
“It should be in my personal effects envelope.” Justin reaches down and picks up the envelope from the floor beside him. Just as he starts to reach inside, Abrams leaps out of the chair and yanks it out of Justin's hands yelling, “Don't touch that!”
“What the hell!” Justin jerks away and throws his hands into the air. “I was just getting the key for you.”
The detective looks apologetic. “Sorry, but it could be evidence. The key could have fingerprints or even DNA on it.”
Justin shrugs. “Sorry, I didn't even think of that.”
Abrams pulls a vinyl glove from his coat pocket and slips it on. He opens the envelope and empties the contents on the tabletop. Using a ballpoint pen, he separates the chain and key from the rest of the contents. The detective carefully picks the key up by its edges and examines it for several moments with Carlson leaning over him.
“Do you have any idea what this key is for, Mr. Seaborne?”
“Sorry. Not a clue.”
Abrams pulls a plastic bag from his side pocket and slips the key and chain into it. He rises from the table. “I'll take this down to the lab. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
After Abrams leaves, Carlson asks, “Any more surprises, Mr. Seaborne?” When Bobby raises his hand, Carlson smiles and then adds, “And, I mean that in the most positive way.”
Justin shakes his head. “Not that I can think of right now.”
“Well, if you think of anything, don't hesitate to give me a call. Here is my card.”
On the way out of the building, Justin is all smiles. He slaps Bobby on the back and says, “I owe you, man. I'm buying you dinner–whenever and wherever you want.”
Bobby laughs. “That's not all you’re buying. Wait until you get my bill. You won't be feeling so good then.”
It is Justin’s turn to laugh. “Whatever it is, it’s worth it. If it weren't for you, Bobby, I would still be in jail. You're the best.”
Justin stops, turns around, and looks out into the parking lot. “I wonder where my car is.”
“It might still be in front of the Bensons’ house, or in the alley, or perhaps it was impounded. Let’s check with the front desk and see if they know anything.”
VII – Lights Out
Justin’s 1974 maroon Volvo is easy to spot in the impound yard. He can tell it has been gone over by the CSU because sprinklings of dusting powder are on the doors, windows, dash and steering wheel. He thanks Bobby one more time and after paying the towing charge, Justin settles into the frayed and stained driver’s seat. The pungent odor of musty smoke lingers in the enclosed air even though it has been well over a year since he quit smoking. God, I could sure use a smoke right now. Justin shakes his head, rolls down his window, and hopes the old beast will start.
Ten minutes later he parks in front of his cottage and smiles. There’s no place like home.
As Justin unlocks the front door, he hits the light switch, but nothing happens. He flicks the switch a couple more times with the same results. A scraping sound behind him causes Justin to turns around, just as something hard strikes the back of his head. Justin screams and goes down.
While wallowing on the floor fighting the pain, a boot finds Justin’s groin. He rolls over into a fetal position gasping for air.
A voice in the darkness whispers, “Shut yar mouth. Not anudder word or yer a dead man.”
Justin wheezes in between groans.
“Where’s dah key?”
“Where's what?” asks Justin.
This time the boot finds Justin’s left kidney and he screams again.
“Funny man. Let's see how funny ya are …”
“No–huh–huh–wait,” begs Justin. “Honest–I don't know what you’re talking about.”
A hand grabs Justin's hair, yanking his head back as the voice spits, “Where’s da damn key?”
Even though Justin is in a lot of pain, his mind grasps the seriousness of the situation. He can’t tell his attacker the truth. But what do I tell him?
“Listen, mister, I don't know anything about a key. Are you talking about my car keys–the house key–I don’t care, take them all. Take whatever you want, but please don't hurt me anymore.”
Justin hears the man wheezing over him and smells tobacco. The hand releases Justin's hair.
“No games–yah hear me? If ah think ya’re playin’ me, yer dead.”
“You’ve got to believe me. I’m not playing any games.”
“Okay.” There was a long pause. “When ah dumped ya in dah alley,” the attacker takes another deep breath before continuing, “ya woke up and grabbed dah damn key hangin round mah neck. When ah tried ta wrestle it away, a police car stops at dah end of dah alley.”
A foot comes down on Justin's throat. He struggles to free himself by trying to push the foot off, but the man is just too strong. Justin can’t breathe.
The man removes his foot and Justin rolls over on the floor gasping for air and gagging. A hand grabs his hair again and yanks Justin to an upright position. “Do ya want ta see what else ah can do ta ya?”
“No, please,” Justin begs. “I don't remember a key. When I was arrested there was no key on me.”
“Why’d dah police let ya go?”
“I'm–I’m not sure,” Justin lies. “My attorney said they didn't have enough to hold me.”
“Ah’d say yer one lucky fella. Well, we’re gonna take a ride. We're gonna check out dat alley. If what ya say is true, dah key should still be there. Now, git yer ass up. But, ah'm warnin ya–ya better not try anything.”
Justin is yanked to his feet and something is thrown over his head. Justin yells, but the man whispers, “Shut yer damn mouth. Ah jus don’t want ya lookin at me.” He grabs the back of Justin’s collar and shoves him out the door.
As Justin steps down from his porch, he trips on something. He goes down hard on the sidewalk causing his assailant to fall on top of him. Justin hears grunts, groans and curses.
“Seaborne, stay down,” someone yells. It wasn’t the voice of the man.
Justin hears bits and pieces of conversations including, “Git offa me” then “You have the right to remain silent, you have the …” and finally “Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
Moments later the hood is ripped off and someone asks, “Mr. Seaborne, are you alright?”
VIII – Who Is Adolph Swartz?
Justin looks up and sees Detective Carlson standing over him offering his hand. Justin reaches up and allows Carlson to pull him to his feet. “Yeah, I'm fine–I think.” He looks around and sees a man face down on the grass with his hands cuffed behind him. ”How did you know this guy was here?”
“We weren't really sure until we checked with the PostBox Store. The key is for a mailbox at the store on 23rd Street. In the mailbox is a letter from Adolph Swartz, a brother of Margaret Benson. The letter was addressed to Mrs. Benson. In the letter was the flight and arrival information for Mr. Swartz.
Justin shakes his head. “Okay–why is that important?”
“Swartz is a diamond importer. He’s flying in from Zurich tomorrow. When we talked to him, he explained that he will be carrying a briefcase filled with rough-cut diamonds and a couple of large rubies and emeralds.”
“I still don’t understand. Why is that important?”
“The Bensons always pick Mr. Swartz up at the airport, take him to the diamond exchange, and then bring him home for a visit. He says he loves–ah loved– Maggie’s cooking. We figured that the arrival information was what the killer was after.” Carlson smiles. “So, we staked out your place to see what would happen. Fortunately for you, our hunch was right.”
Justin watches as Abrams pulls the large, muscular man with a pockmarked face and receding hairline to his feet and pushes him toward the police car.
After the man is in the car, Carlson continues, “When you went inside and didn't turn on the lights we knew something was up. We didn't dare come in until the SWAT team arrived. While we waited,” Carlson points at the cruiser, “he did us a favor and came out with you in tow.”
Justin looks down at his scuffed hands and torn pants. He shakes his head. “But why would he kill Wayne and Maggie. Why couldn't he just steal the key?”
“We're not certain as to what happened and why. We believe that something went wrong at the house. Perhaps he over-dosed the Bensons or they refused to give him the key.” Carlson shakes his head, “Or, maybe the tranquilizer didn't work as quick as what he thought it would and Wayne or Maggie put up a fight. We really won't know until we interrogate him. Maybe we'll never know.”
“But why didn't he kill me then?”
Carlson shakes his head. “Again, we aren't certain, but we think the killer needed time to figure out how to gain access to the letter and kidnap Mr. Swartz. Perhaps he needed a diversion–someone to pin the murders on while he waited for Swartz’s arrival. The good news is that we caught him trying to kidnap you. He's going away for a long time even if we can't pin the murders on him.”
IX - Not Again
After Justin gives his statement at the police station, an officer drives him back to his house. The detectives had offered to drive him to the emergency room to check out the head wound and abrasions on his hands and knees, but Justin just wants to go home.
On the way, Justin rubs the lump on the back of his head. Boy was I lucky. What a nightmare.
Between spending a night in the alley, being locked up, the hours of interrogation, and the pummeling from the attacker, Justin is mentally and physically exhausted. Bed–his own bed–is the only thing on his mind as he unlocks the front door.
When he flicks the light switch, nothing happens. “Dammit.” Then he remembers that his attacker must have removed the overhead light bulb or cut off the power. He feels along the wall to the living room lamp and switches it on. Fortunately, it works.
As Justin turns around, he freezes. Sitting in his old, faded-blue Lazy Boy chair is a man with a gun in his hand. The gun has a silencer.
Justin’s knees buckle, but he manages to catch himself before going down. Now who the hell is this guy?
“Good evening, Mr. Seaborne, please take a seat. We have much to talk about.” The man points the pistol to the red sofa opposite him.
Justin collapses into the sofa and finds it difficult to generate enough saliva to say anything. “Who–who are you?”
The man smiles. “As they say in the movies, I’m your worst nightmare.” The man leans forward and asks, “Where is it?”
The pistol spits once and the fiber flies from the couch’s backrest next to him. As if reacting in slow motion, Justin’s head jerks to the side, he sees the hole in his couch, and dives to the floor. As he huddles behind the coffee table, he can’t stop shaking.
The man reaches over the table and places the hot barrel against Justin’s temple. “Now, I’ll ask politely one more time; where is the key?”
Justin flinches from the barrel’s heat as his body trembles. My God, not again. He sits up so that his back rests against the couch. The gun is now eyelevel.
Justin has difficulty focusing on anything but the gun. “As I told the guy earlier …”
“So Max was here. Where is he now?”
“I–I don’t know. He–uh– just left.”
“Uh-huh, wrong answer. Max wouldn’t just leave.”
The pistol flicks to the left and spits again. Justin cries out in pain and cradles his right ear. The top of his ear is gone and blood oozes out between his fingers.
God, Justin, think–think. “Honest. I told him what I knew and he–he just left.”
“No way.” The barrel is now centered on Justin’s forehead. “Max wouldn’t double cross me. He knows what would happen to him if he tried that.”
The shooter tosses him a handkerchief and Justin wads it up and presses it against his ear. His teeth won’t stop chattering even when he clenches them. I can’t tell him what happened to Max. So, what do I tell him?
“Look Seaborne, I’m trying to be reasonable here. And, I have been exceedingly patient considering everything that has happened.”
Justin’s eyes follow the barrel as it moves downward and points to his groin.
“Next time I’ll aim at something a little more vital.”
Justin stares at the barrel and his free hand slides across his lap to cover himself.
“Okay, let’s try this one … more … time. Where is the key?”
As he swallows back the tears, Justin replies, “Look, I don’t know. As I told the other guy, if the key is anywhere, it has to be in the alley where he dumped me.”
The man shakes his head and sighs. “Wrong answer.”
My God, he’s going to kill me! Justin throws his free hand up in front of him. “Please–please believe me. If I had the key, don’t you think I would give it to you?” He grimaces as he adjusts the handkerchief. “If you want, I’ll go with you to the alley and we can both search for it. Just please, I beg you, don’t kill me.” Tears flow down Justin’s cheeks and wet his shirt.
The shooter sits back in the lounge chair and rocks back and forth. His eyes glance up at the ceiling and back to Justin. He starts humming some tune that Justin doesn’t recognize. As the man rocks, the pistol remains pointed at Justin.
“Okay, Mr. Seaborne, I believe you. Let’s you and me take a little drive?” He rubs his chin with the barrel of the gun. “Tell you what, if we find the key, you can walk away and never see me again. On the other hand, if there is no key … well, for your sake, let’s just hope it is there.”
For the first time since turning on the lamp, he takes a moment to size up the attacker. Justin guesses he is in his mid-30’s. He has long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. The two most striking features are a blond Van Dyke mustache and a long jagged scar down his right cheek. Then, another thought creeps into Justin’s mind that chills him to the bone. He isn’t bothering to conceal his identity like the other guy. There is no way he is going to let me live.
The man rises from the chair. “Okay, you’re driving.”
Justin starts to get up when he remembers he’s still bleeding. He points at his bloody ear with his free hand. “I need to patch this up or I won’t be able to drive.”
“Okay, but, don’t try anything. I would hate to see you have an accident after we’ve become such good friends.” The pistol flicks to the left. “Lead the way.”
Justin walks to the bathroom and pulls out gauze, tape and scissors from the drawer. After he cuts several strips of tape and attaches them to the gauze, he turns and asks, “Can you help me with this?”
The man shakes his head. “Just get on with it.”
X – One Gutsy Guy
On the way across town, Justin’s ear throbs like hell. The constant pain reminds him to stay focused. Okay, you bought some time with this drive; now what are you going to do? As he weighs his options, the possibility of a viable solution dwindles.
Since Justin first learned of the death of his friends, one question has been nagging him. Figuring he has nothing to lose, he asks the gunman, “Why kill the Bensons? They weren’t any danger to you.”
The man, who has been holding the gun on Justin the entire trip, lets the barrel drop slightly and grins. “You’re a gutsy guy, aren’t you? I normally like that, but today it just isn’t wearing well on me.” After a brief pause, he laughs and says, “Oh, what the hell. The Bensons were an accident. Max and I planned to drug them with the tranq gun, question them about the key, and maybe even torture the woman a little to get the old man to talk. Then we were going to hold the man hostage until the woman picked up her brother. It was supposed to be simple and effective with little harm done to either of them.”
After a long sigh, he continues, “Well, wouldn’t you know it, the tranq doesn’t work as fast as the vet said it would and the old man jumps us. My over-zealous partner, Max, cracks the guy on the head with his gun. I didn’t know it at the time, but the old man was dead. From there, things just kept going downhill.”
The man shakes his head. “After Max tranq'd you and the old lady in the kitchen, she wouldn’t tell us where to find the damn key.” The man pauses then slaps the dash. “I’m still pissed at the vet. He guaranteed me the Special K would make a person compliant–willing to do almost anything. Well, the stubborn old broad refuses to cooperate–no matter how much we threatened her. So, we go to Plan B and search the house. Max eventually finds the key. Guess where it was?”
“I don’t know.”
“On the woman’s key ring.” The gunman chuckles while shaking his head. “You can imagine how much time we wasted looking for the key. Max was pissed. When he told the woman what a bitch she was, the feisty old lady spits in his face. That dumb son-of-a-bitch, Max, loses his cool and slits her throat.”
The gunman massages the back of his neck. “So, now we have the key, but we don’t have a hostage.” He pauses and shakes his head. “You know something? You just can’t get good help in my line of work. Max knew we needed the woman alive.” The man rubs his forehead with his free hand. “But, I digress. So, I tell Max to dump you in an alley across town and then stop by the PostBox to pick up the letter. The dumb bastard loses the key.”
“But, why did you try to frame me?” Justin asks.
“Well, I guess you could say you were partially to blame for that.” The man leans towards Justin as if telling him a secret. “You see, we needed time to pick up the courier. We didn’t need any statewide manhunt on our hands. Anyway, you were really looped on that drug. You wouldn’t shut up and kept babbling on and on about your wife, some accident, the AA meetings you attend, something about the Omega Factor, and all kinds of other crap.”
The man chuckles. “At least the drug worked well on you. You were Mr. Compliant. So, I decided to make it look like you went off the wagon and in some kind of drunken rage killed your friends with the butcher knife you used to cut up the vegetables. We even cleaned up the house real good to make certain no one thought it was a robbery gone bad.” The man sits back for a moment and glances out the side window. “And, it should have worked. It was a perfect plan until Max’s feelings got hurt.”
The two drove several blocks in silence. “So, now that we are buddies, Justin, tell me what really happened to Max?”
Justin considers how to answer the question. He glances over at the gunman. He knows something happened to Max. “He was arrested.”
“You see. That wasn’t so hard.” The man leans into Justin and whispers, “Before or after he got the key?”
“Before. It happened right outside my house.” Justin knows his tenure on this earth is coming to an end as he turns right and enters the street where the alley is located. Think Justin–what are you going to do?
More silence. I need to keep this guy talking. “So, once you get the key, how do you plan on getting the diamonds?”
The man jams the gun into Justin’s side.
“God!” Justin gasps as a jabbing pain seizes his chest. He thinks a rib might be broken.
With venom in his voice, the man spits, “You are one nosy bastard! I am sick of your questions. Now where is this alley?”
Justin lifts his arm to point, but the pain is too great. “Just–huh–up ahead.”
Justin’s mind races through some options. With the gun in his ribs, it is impossible to escape. His eyes search the street ahead for anything that might divert the shooter’s attention long enough to escape.
Call it luck or call it a guardian angel looking out for him; but whatever it is, Justin must have it today. Heading toward them is a police cruiser. Just maybe … if I can just …
As Justin floors the accelerator and the old Volvo’s engine roars to life, he asks, “Do you know what I love about this car?”
The gunman looks at Justin and then at the oncoming police car. “What the hell are you doing?”
Justin leans forward and veers into the oncoming lane heading straight towards the cruiser. “No side airbags.”
As the car accelerates, the man sticks the gun to Justin’s temple and yells, “Stop the car … you’re going to get us both killed!”
Justin doesn’t back off on the throttle. The cruiser slams on its brakes. When his Volvo is less than ten feet from the police car, he cranks the wheel to the left while stomping on the brakes. The car fishtails to the right, causing the passenger side of his Volvo to smash into the cruiser.
Initially stunned by the impact, Justin quickly recovers and glances at the shooter. The gunman’s head is at the center of a blood-smeared spider web reaching out to the edges of the window. The man isn’t moving.
“Step out of the vehicle with your hands in the air!”
XI – Nine Lives
The paramedic wraps Justin's ear with a gauze headband. While she works, Justin looks down at his tightly wrapped ribs. Even though wrapped, he experiences a sharp pain in his right side with every breath he takes.
When the paramedic finishes, she starts packing up her bag. “Your injuries aren’t life threatening, but I still recommend that you see a doctor immediately. When the shot I gave you wears off, you could be in a lot of pain. We could take you to the hospital if you like.”
Justin shakes his head. “Not today. I just want to go home. I’ll go first thing in the morning.”
The paramedic looks up at Detectives Abrams and Carlson who have been watching. “You need to talk some sense into this man. He could do some real damage to his internal organs if that rib bone splinters.”
Carlson, who has waited patiently for the paramedic to finish her work, rests his foot on the bumper next to Justin. “Miss, I understand what you are saying, but isn’t it his decision?”
“You’re right,” the paramedic barks. “And, here I thought my husband was bullheaded.”
Carlson laughs and then looks at Justin. “Do you feel like talking?”
Justin crosses his arms and holds his sides with his hands. He nods.
“That was quite the stunt you pulled this evening, Mr. Seaborne. Not only did you manage to total your vehicle, you did a pretty good job of screwing up one of the city's new cruisers. Next time, pick on one that we plan to retire in a few months, okay?”
Justin looks up, sees a smile on Carlson’s face, and relaxes a little.
Abrams sits down on the other side of Justin. “You were lucky twice today, Mr. Seaborne. I don't know how many lives you have left, but you used up two of them the other day and two more today.”
The detective laughs for a moment, but the smile quickly disappears from his face. “That was quick thinking. It was also irrational and suicidal, but quick thinking nonetheless. He wouldn't have let you leave the alley alive. Now if it were me, I don't think I would have thought of crashing into a patrol car. But in hindsight, it was probably the only chance to get out of the situation alive.” Abrams looks away and then back at Justin. “Gutsy. That’s what I’d call it.”
“The gunman called me gutsy also. Speaking of him, did he make it?
Abrams shakes his head and Justin stares at the pavement.
Carlson holds out his fisted hand. Justin reaches out with his palm up and Carlson drops the Volvo’s keys into it. “You should frame these or maybe have them bronzed. That old clunker of yours saved your life today.”
Abrams chuckles at the suggestion. “Mr. Seaborne, we will need to get a statement from you. But, based upon everything that happened to you today, it can wait until morning. Can we give you a lift to the hospital … or home?”
Justin smiles as he looks over at his car. “I’m going to miss that old beast.” He nods. “Yes, thanks, I could use a ride … home.”
On the way, Justin tells his story. Occasionally, one of the detectives interrupts to ask a question or comment on something Justin said. As the adrenaline wears off and the pain killer begins to work, exhaustion sets in. By the time Justin arrives at his house, he is dozing in the back seat.
Carlson pulls into the driveway and shuts off the engine. Abrams notices Justin is sleeping, so he reaches into the back seat and shakes Justin’s shoulder. “Doctor Seaborne, you’re home.”
Justin’s head snaps up and he glances around before realizing where he is. “What?”
Abrams smiles, then asks, “Would you mind if we accompany you into your house? I don’t think you want to find any more uninvited visitors in there today.”
Still a little groggy, it takes a moment to realize what Abrams is asking. Justin nods. “Yes, I would appreciate it.”
As the detectives open their doors, Justin frowns and asks, “Did you … call me … doctor? You know that I am not an MD, right?”
Carlson turns around and smiles at Justin. “We know who you are, Doctor Seaborne. We also know that you are one hell of a man.”
Abrams shakes his head and laughs. “Come on, Doctor, let's go check out the house. Our Mayor doesn’t need any more cruisers totaled today.”