Rating: PG (violence and language mostly)
Notes: When I decided on the name for this series, I wasn't aware of a one season series that ran on NBC in 81/82 that starred James "Matt Dillon" Arness as a retired cop who returns to the force. This series has nothing to do with that one.
Notes (2): I'm not a fan of over researching stories. I grew up with stories that I had no idea whether things were true or not, but I enjoyed the stories. I don't write realism. I write for entertainment. So if stories that don't exude realism bug you, you can read this, but please don't write feedback like "Things don't happen that fast. Things don't work that way." This was originally an idea for a TV series, and it's written the way most TV cop shows play out. If you want realism, I'd suggest finding a "True Crime" magazine. (Do they still have those?) Otherwise, enjoy!
Cast of Characters Here Link will open in a new window.
A nondescript man sat in an equally nondescript black car on a metropolitan side street, his attention focused on the people who came and went around an abandoned warehouse.
The passenger door opened, and another man got into the car, holding out one of the two cups of coffee he'd just bought around the corner. "Thanks, Johnny," the first man said, taking it gratefully.
Where he wasn't a person most people would remember quickly, Johnny was someone that most people would have trouble forgetting. Over six foot tall, dark haired with just a hint of gray, and hazel eyes that changed with his mood, he attracted attention almost everywhere he went.
It had been a drawback at times in his chosen profession. Going undercover as a narcotics officer hadn't been easy but it had been a help, too, especially when trying to stop the prostitutes that frequented areas of the city. Now, in his job as a Special Crimes detective, John "Johnny" McClain found that while his size tended to intimidate the bad guys, it sometimes made the victims or their survivors of the crimes he investigated feel protected.
Sipping his coffee, Johnny glanced around. "Any sign of him?"
"Nope," Johnny's partner, Andy Devlin said. "I'm beginning to think this is a wild goose chase. I don't think Graves is anywhere near here."
"The clerk at the food mart around the corner told me that he'd seen someone who fit Graves' description," Johnny insisted. "About this time yesterday."
"I'll give it another hour," Andy declared, "then I'm calling the Captain and seeing if she wants to keep someone out here or call it off."
"I'm sure he's around here, Andy," Johnny said. "I can *feel* it."
Andy snorted, but turned this gaze back toward the warehouse. "Speaking of calling things off when are you and Lana going to settle things and get back together?"
Johnny lifted his shoulders, wishing that the cup in his hands contained something more than just coffee. "We talk every day," he said. "She calls to make sure I'm okay."
"Sounds like she's willing to try to work it out," Andy observed, his eyes sliding back to the street.
"She says I can come home anytime," he said. "Long as I give up the booze."
"So do it," Andy said. "I gotta tell you, man, I've been through it. Ending a marriage isn't the way to go. Too many cops end up divorced I always thought you and Lana would be the exception to that rule. If all she wants is you to be sober, what's the problem?"
"I don't know, Andy," Johnny said, slumping a little more into his seat. "I know I *should*, and I want to, but even if I promised to never touch another drop, I don't know that I could keep that promise, you know? First time something happened at work " His voice trailed off as he saw a thin, blonde man moving toward the alley beside the warehouse. "There he is."
Johnny frowned as he remembered questioning Anthony Lee Graves about eight year old Marie Adams' disappearance three days ago a month after another girl the same age had been found dead in a wooded area less than a mile from where Graves was living with his girlfriend and her daughter. A records search had turned up the fact that Graves had been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault of a child four years ago in Ohio. But a paperwork glitch regarding the evidence against him had turned him back onto the streets, and he had moved less than a week later. Without the now tainted evidence, the Ohio authorities hadn't been able to re-file the charges.
As a result, Graves had been nervous when questioned by Johnny and Andy, and insisted that they talk to Gracie, his girlfriend's daughter as proof that he would never harm anyone.
While the girl had backed up his story, even showing no signs of abuse when her mother voluntarily allowed a medical examination, Johnny had been certain that Graves was the man they were looking for and had become determined to find both him and his latest victim before it was too late.
"Looks like he's carrying a takeout bag," Andy noted. "Could you read the writing on it?"
"Didn't have to. It was yellow and green. From Captain's Harbor." The two men exchanged a knowing look. Captain's Harbor was a family restaurant that had a pirate's motif and catered to children's birthday parties.
It was also Marie Adams' favorite place.
"I'll keep an eye on him, find out where he's getting inside," Johnny announced, opening the door. "Call for back up and I'll be right back."
Andy grabbed the radio while Johnny moved across the street and paused at the corner of the building to peer into the dirty, dim alleyway beyond. Unable to see where Graves had gone, Johnny moved further into the alley, careful not to step on any of the trash that littered the pavement. One sound and he would alert Graves to his presence, and spook him into running.
An abandoned crate stood in the alley, and Johnny ducked behind it, looking around the edge in time to see Graves step up onto another crate, then onto the edge of a trash dumpster before levering himself up into an open window. Johnny followed a second later, climbing up onto the dumpster as well. His greater height made it possible to see into the dark building beyond, and he caught sight of Graves rounding a corner.
Climbing back down, Johnny backtracked out of the alley, meeting up with Andy as his partner was crossing the street. "There are a couple of units on the way," Andy said. "What did you find?"
"He got in through an open window back there. You know that if too many people go in there, he'll hear it and run," Johnny said.
"We have to wait for the others to bring a warrant, Johnny "
"We can go in if we think someone is in danger," Johnny pointed out. Seeing that Andy wasn't totally convinced, he continued, "Do you really think that he was going in there just to have a solitary picnic? He knows that little girl likes Captain's Harbor. You know what he'll do to her "
"*If* she's in there," Andy countered. "We don't know "
"I'm *sure* she's there. What other reason could he have for being in there?" He could almost see Andy's thoughts as he pondered Johnny's words. "The longer we wait around, the better chance he has of doing something to that girl, Andy. Look, the warrant's on the way. How much harm can it do for us to go on in to try and find her?"
"Okay, we'll go in scope it out, find out where they are so that we can lead the others in when they get here."
Johnny led his partner to the crate and dumpster, climbing up and slipping through the window. Dropping quietly to the floor, he waited for Andy to join him. Nodding, he pointed in the direction they needed to go.
They moved carefully and cautiously through the dim corridor deeper into the building, both listening for any sign that might lead them to where Graves might be keeping Marie Adams prisoner.
As they entered a hallway lined by sliding metal doors, both men paused as they heard a shaky, frightened voice.
"Do I have to do it?"
"I brought you something to eat so you owe me," Graves replied in a quiet tone that sent a chill down Johnny's spine. "Just touch it you know how I like it done "
"I'm hungry," the little girl said.
"Do this and then you can eat the food. Here. Let me help you get started. Give me your hand "
Johnny's eyes were locked on Andy's face, as the two men silently communicated their fear that their back up wasn't going to arrive before Graves did further damage to his victim. Looking around, Johnny found several lengths of pipe laying against the wall. Picking one up, he mimicked tossing the pipe down the hallway to lure Graves out of the room away from Marie Adams.
Nodding, Andy pulled his weapon and stood against the wall beside the latch side of the metal doorway.
"Oh, that feels good, honey. You're so sweet taking care of me this way . . ."
Johnny felt sickened by what might be going on in that room, and moved to the corner where the hallway from the access point connected to the hallway, lofting the pipe away from the room.
The loud clang that the metal pipe made when it contacted the concrete floor echoed through the nearly empty building.
In the silence that settled afterward, they heard Graves speak quickly. "Stay here. Don't make a noise or your parents will regret it."
The door slid open, and Johnny waited a tick before coming around the corner to confront the man, his weapon ready. "Freeze," he said.
Graves would have turned back toward the room, but he found Andy there, waiting. Before anyone knew what was going on, Graves brought his elbow back into Andy's chest, surprising the detective as he lifted his head, tossing Andy's head back so that it impacted with the brick wall behind him.
Andy's gun clattered to the floor, and Graves made a grab for it as Johnny dove as well in an attempt to stop him. Graves rolled and came up with the gun, and would have run away, but Johnny swept the smaller man's feet from under him, sending him back to the floor, and the gun across the hallway.
When Graves stood again, he had grabbed
one of the cache of pipes, his intent in using it as a weapon
clear. Johnny rose as well, grabbing the end of the pipe as Graves
swung. After a moment, Johnny succeeded in wrenching the pipe
from Graves' hands. Angry, Johnny grabbed Graves by the front
of his shirt and shoved him against the wall as he heard his partner
moan. "Andy?" he called out, giving Graves another chance
to escape as he glanced away for a second.
But Johnny wasn't about to lose Graves. Not now. As Graves made an attempt to push past him and grab Andy's weapon, Johnny brought his right fist up and into contact with Graves' chin.
Graves sagged, and Johnny pushed Graves forcefully against the wall again, using his own weight against the smaller man, barely hearing the 'crack' as Graves' head hit the wall. Graves' eyes closed and he slid down the wall, his body still.
Johnny turned to see a terrified little girl standing in the open doorway, her blue eyes wide as she saw him. "Marie," Johnny said softly, kneeling down to her level. "I'm here to take you home to your mom and dad."
She sobbed, and threw herself into his arms, burying her face against his neck. Glancing over at Andy, he could tell his partner was breathing, at least. From this angle, he couldn't tell if Graves was breathing as well. He wasn't sure that he cared one way or the other, truth be told.
Standing up, he kept his arms around the child, trying to shield her from having to see her kidnapper again. "Come on. I'll take you home."
The bartender turned from the television news images of Marie Adams' rescue to look at the man sitting at the bar, a nearly-empty glass of whiskey in his hand. "You've had a busy day, Johnny," he noted.
"You're a hero. Rescuing that little girl -"
"And killing the slime ball who kidnapped her," Johnny added. "My boss wasn't happy about that. Put me on 'administrative leave' until IAD finishes their investigation."
"That stinks," Hank said, wiping the bar down nearby. "Guess your partner's okay, though? They took him off in an ambulance --"
"Kept him overnight for observation. Said he had a mild concussion, I think. He'll be okay. He's hard headed. Has to be to keep hanging onto a partner like me," Johnny mused, finishing his drink.
"Shouldn't you be heading home?"
"Home?" Johnny McClain replied with a snort of anger upon hearing the bartender's question. "Haven't you heard? I don't have a home anymore. My wife decided that she didn't like me when I drink." Not that he blamed her much for that. He wasn't the same man that had she had married a little over twenty years ago. Shaking off the moment of retrospection, Johnny grinned at the bartender. "So I've moved in with my mom temporarily. You don't have a problem with me when I drink, do you, Hank?"
"No, Johnny," Hank said. "Never had any problems. You're one of my best customers."
"Give me another one," Johnny said, lifting his glass.
Hank shook his head. "I hate to do this, but I have to cut you off."
"Cut me off?" Johnny blinked, his hazel eyes having trouble focusing.
"Yeah. You have anymore, you won't be able to stand up. You need to go sleep it off, pal." He extended a hand, palm up. "Give me your keys. I'll call you cab."
"Don't need a cab," Johnny said, although he dug into his jacket pocket nearly falling off the bar stool in the process and put his keys onto the counter. "I'll walk." Staggering to his feet, he held onto the bar as the room started to sway and spin. "Whoa!"
"You sure you don't need a cab, Johnny?"
"And if you go out there and get hit by a car, it'll be *my* ass on the line," Hank pointed out, picking up the phone. "Wait right there."
Johnny pulled some money out of his other pocket, slapping it onto the bar as Hank began to talk to someone on the phone. The room wasn't spinning anymore, so Johnny turned slowly and made his way across the small bar toward the front door. Behind him, he thought he heard Hank calling his name, but Johnny didn't stop. Probably wasn't anything important. Nothing that wouldn't wait until his next visit. Wasn't like he wouldn't be back to Hank's Bar again, was it? He was Hank's best customer, Johnny repeated to himself as he bumped into someone on the sidewalk.
"Sorry," he muttered, ignoring the man's angry glare. Stopping for a moment to get his bearings he thought about going home instead of to his mother's house.
But Lana didn't want him at home anymore - not drinking, anyway. After twenty years, it was over. His marriage, his career. All of it gone. Lana had asked him to leave; Capt. Carrington had put him on report after he'd saved that little girl from that animal. Okay, so maybe he'd gotten a little too rough with the guy, Johnny admitted. But the guy had kidnapped a ten year old girl and was doing horrible, sickening things to her. And she hadn't been the first. Guys like that made Johnny ill. Physically ill. He hadn't deserved any compassion or sympathy for what had happened to him.
Lana would understand, Johnny decided. She'd agree with him that the guy deserved everything he got and more. She'd worked with kids like that scared little girl - trying to put their lives back together after it was torn to shreds by a pervert. A car pulled up to the curb beside him.
"Hey, are you Johnny McClain?" the driver asked through the open passenger side door.
"Yeah," Johnny answered, narrowing his eyes as he tried to see into the dark interior of the bright yellow cab.
"You need a ride?"
"No. I'm fine," Johnny said, hesitating as he leaned forward and almost fell into the door of the car.
The driver got out and came around. "Hank called me and said you needed a ride home," he said, opening the back passenger side door and steering Johnny inside not an easy task, since Johnny was well over six foot tall, and the driver was at least a foot shorter.
Relaxing against the seat, Johnny closed his eyes. "Yeah. Maybe I should go home," he mused as the driver got back into the car.
"Where to?" he asked.
"1342 Glen Cove," Johnny said
out of habit, and nearly changed it when he realized that he'd
given the address of the house he and Lana had bought fifteen
years ago. But doing so would have required too much effort, he
decided, and sank further into the seat, thinking that he could
sleep some of the bourbon off before he got there. If necessary,
he could walk around the corner to his mom's place. But Lana wouldn't
turn him away. He was sure she'd heard about what had happened
today. About what the pervert had done to that little girl. The
three unanswered calls on his cell phone from her were evidence
of that much.
Lana would understand. He'd apologize and tell her that he was going to change. That he'd stop drinking and become the husband he'd been before the job got to him. She'd make it right. She always made it right.
"You need help inside?" the driver asked once Johnny had slapped some money into his hand as they looked at the house. It was an older house, and Johnny couldn't help but think about all the work that he and Lana had put into making it into a home. "Hey, buddy, you okay?"
"Yeah. No, I can get in okay. Thanks for the ride."
"No problem." He got back into the car and pulled away from the curb, leaving Johnny standing on the sidewalk.
There was a light on in the front room -
but the rest of the house was dark. The front porch light was
on, but since it was Friday night, Johnny wasn't surprised. JJ
was probably out on a date, and Rachel usually spent Friday evenings
at Jenny's house. He also remembered - belatedly - that 10 year
old Henry had decided to spend the night over at his grandmother's,
who lived just around the corner, since Johnny had been living
there since the separation. The realization that Henry had probably
been waiting for him to come home all evening almost caused Johnny
to turn toward the corner to spend some time with his younger
son. Almost. But something told him not to go just yet. The light
was on so that JJ could get back into the house after his date,
Johnny decided, moving slowly and carefully toward the steps onto
the wide front porch that wrapped around the corner of the house
to a second entry door that lead into the dining room.
Johnny went to the front door and started to knock, but stopped, remembering that it was *still* his house, after all. Well, his and Lana's, he amended, digging into his jacket pocket, only to remember that he'd left his keys at the bar. He'd have to knock after all, since Lana always locked the door and set the chain at night. He lifted his hand, and then noticed that the door was slightly ajar instead of closed.
Even through an alcohol induced haze, Johnny knew that something wasn't right. "Lana?" he called out, pushing the door further open.
The silence was almost deafening, and as he moved forward, Johnny felt glass under his shoe. Surprise knocked him off balance, and he went to his knees, bracing himself with his palms on the floor. He barely felt the tiny shards of glass dig into his skin as he heard what sounded like a moan from the living room.
His mind slowly clearing, Johnny launched himself through the doorway and froze for a moment as he the smell of blood assailed his nostrils. There seemed to be blood everywhere. He slipped in the dampness on the polished wood floor and fell again, this time ending up on his knees beside Lana's beaten and bloody body. Her left leg was at an odd angle, the right knee was bloody and swollen. "Lana!?" he said, reaching out to put his arms around her, praying that he really *had* heard her moaning. Because that would mean she was alive. There *was* a pulse, he realized, putting a finger to her neck. It was faint, but it was there. "I'll call for help, honey," he told her, fumbling to take out his cell phone, ignoring the blood on his hands as he pressed 9-1-1. "Hang on," he said again. When the operator answered, he told her, "My wife's hurt and she needs a doctor now."
"What is the nature of her injury, sir?" the woman asked in a monotone voice.
"She - she looks like she's been beaten, and she's unconscious. Look, I'm a cop. John McClain. Badge number 1647. Get someone over here *now*!"
"Is your address 1342 Lake Cove, Mr. McClain?"
"Yes." He ran a hand over Lana's bruised and bloody face as she opened her eyes. "Lana? Lana, can you hear me?" She nodded. "Who did this, honey?" he asked.
"J-Johnny," she said, and then her eyes fluttered closed and she went limp.
"Lana!!" He felt for the pulse again, and when he couldnt find it, Johnny dropped the phone as the operator spoke again.
"What's happening, Mr. McClain?"
"She's not breathing," he said loudly, "I'm going to start CPR -" He began compressions, ignoring the phone. There was still no sign of life, but Johnny refused to give up, only giving way when the two paramedics entered the room and almost pushed him out of the way.
He sat back on his heels, watching them try to revive Lana to no avail. One of them finally pulled away from her and told his partner to call for the coroner as he turned to Johnny. Never taking his eyes off of Lana's body, Johnny answered his questions.
"Are you hurt, sir?"
"No -" suddenly he lifted his hands. "I cut my hands. On the glass in the other room," he said. "My knees, too -" he glanced at the patches of blood on his jeans - a mixture of his and Lana's, most likely, his eyes moving back to her. "But I'm okay." He pulled away from the young man to go over to Lana's body again. "God, Lana," he said. "I'm so sorry. If I could change things, I would." If he'd been here, instead of out drinking himself into a stupor, Lana would still be alive, instead of lying dead on the floor, her blood pooled on the hardwood floor that they had laid together only last summer. The paramedic appeared again, gently pulling him away from the body to clean Johnny's hands.
"This might sting a bit," he said before applying a disinfectant. "When's the last time you had a tetanus booster?" he asked.
"A year ago," Johnny said, barely feeling the pain from the wounds or the attempt to treat them. Pulling away, he said, "I'll get it taken care of later," as he turned back to Lana's rapidly cooling body.
He heard more voices, and looked up to see two uniformed officers enter the room, giving him a wary look. "You're Mr. McClain?" the one whose name badge read "Davis" asked.
"Yes. LAPD detective Lt. John McClain," Johnny confirmed, starting to reach into his jacket for his badge and ID only to stop when the other officer pulled his weapon.
"Don't do that, please, sir," Davis said.
"I was just going to get my badge and ID," he said, his head suddenly clear of the alcohol as he rose unsteadily to his feet. While his head might be clear, his legs were still being affected, apparently.
"Slowly, please," Davis told him, alert to any sudden movement.
Johnny found his badge and ID, and handed them to Davis. "I work out of downtown," he said. "Homicide and major crimes -"
"Yes, sir," Davis acknowledged, handing the badge and ID back to him. "I've heard of you, Lieutenant." He nodded toward Lana's body. "What happened?"
"I don't know. I was out, and found her like this when I came in."
"Was she still alive?"
"Yes. Barely. She opened her eyes once and said my name, then stopped breathing. That's when I started doing CPR -"
"Where were you?"
"At a bar," Johnny answered. No reason to keep it a secret. "Hank's over on Dearborn. I'm a regular there. Hank will confirm that I was there until about half an hour ago when I left to come home."
"Then you've been drinking," Davis' partner noted.
"I've had a few, yeah. I'm sure you've both heard that I had some trouble this morning -"
"You saved a little girl's life," Davis stated, and his partner frowned.
"By beating a suspect to death to find her," he added, and Johnny knew that he was *not* going to be very sympathetic.
Johnny didn't want to rehash the wrong or right of his actions that morning. "Look, I need to call my mom, and find my kids -" Suddenly he was gripped with a fear that maybe the kids *hadn't* been out. Maybe they were upstairs, injured or -" "JJ?! Rachel? Henry!?" he called, moving toward the entry hall to look up the dimly lit stairway, ignoring Davis' attempt to keep him in the living room.
"Lt. McClain, please -"
Johnny shook him off. "JJ! Rachel! Henry!"
"We'll search the house, sir," Davis said, forcing him to turn around at last. "I need you to sit down and wait for the detectives -"
"I need to call -" Johnny started looking for his cell phone. "My phone -" he stopped, remembering that it was still lying on the floor beside Lana's body. Lana's body. Lana was dead. Realization finally hit, and Johnny's legs collapsed, forcing him to sit down on the steps heavily. "Lana. Oh my God," he moaned, burying his face in his hands.
He heard Davis speak to his partner, but the words didn't register. All he could think about was that Lana his wife of 20 years, the mother of his children, the only woman that he had ever loved - was dead. Even in their worst times - like recently, she'd been his strength. Without her - Johnny wasn't sure he could go on. He'd known that he could come back - if he quit drinking. The lines of communication had been open if he wanted to pursue them - as he had tonight.
If he hadn't been drinking if he'd been here, where he should have been then Lana would still be alive.
"Hey, I live here! What's going on? Mom?"
Johnny's head came up when he heard his eldest son's voice outside. "JJ," he muttered, and then stood up, practically pushing Davis' partner out of his way to get to the door. "JJ," he said, seeing the 18 year old young man standing on the porch, struggling against the hold of Davis, who was attempting to restrain him. "He's my son," he told the officer.
"Dad? What are you doing here?" he asked. "Where's mom? And why are all these cops here?"
"JJ -" The boy's eyes swept Johnny's blood-stained clothing, and must have read something in Johnny's face, because he tried to push past his father. But Johnny grabbed the boy's arms, blocking his path. "Don't, son. It won't do you any good."
"No. She's not -" Suddenly he was in Johnny's arms, and Johnny wasn't sure which of them were shaking more as they stood there.
"Where are Rachel and Henry, JJ?" Johnny finally asked in a soft voice.
"Rachel's over at Jenny's, like she always is. Henry's at Gramma's. He wanted to spend the evening with you. Mom was here alone -" the young man's tone was vaguely accusatory. "What happened, Dad?" he asked.
"I don't know. Someone must have broken in, I guess. By the time I got here, it was too late." It wasn't the entire truth, but he wasn't ready to share all of the details of those last few terrifying minutes.
JJ's hazel eyes were still filled with tears. "I should have been here instead of out running around with my friends," he said.
"No, I'm the one who should have been here," Johnny said. "It was *my* place, not yours."
"Yeah, I guess you're right," JJ agreed, and Johnny winced at his honesty. The young man frowned. "What happened to your hands?" he asked.
Johnny shrugged. "I cut them on some glass inside," he explained.
JJ looked toward the house again as two more people arrived on the scene two faces that Johnny knew all too well. "George. Maria."
"Johnny," George Collins said, his expression a mix of sympathy and curiosity. "I'm sorry about your wife."
"Thanks. This is my son," he said. "John Jr. JJ, this is Lt. George Collins and Detective Maria Morales, his partner."
JJ shook their hands. "Sir. Ma'am."
"Were you at home this evening, John?" Collins asked him.
"No, sir. And it's JJ. I was out on a date. I just got home -" Davis nodded, confirming the story.
"I see. Could we speak to your dad for a minute? Alone?"
"Go over to Grandma's, JJ," Johnny said. "And then go tell your sister what's happened and get her over there as well."
"What about you?"
"I'll be over as soon as I can," Johnny told him, glancing at Collins and Morales.
JJ glanced in that direction as well before giving him another hug. "I love you, Dad," he said.
"I love you, son," Johnny replied. Once JJ was out of earshot, he turned back to the two detectives. "Okay, ask your questions."
"We have to go inside and look around," George said. "If you'll wait out here -?"
"I'm not going anywhere," Johnny assured them as he sat down on the steps with Davis' partner keeping a watchful eye on him.
"Johnny?" He looked up at hearing the familiar voice of his partner, Andy Devlin. The man's dark eyes were filled with sadness and concern. Andy had been best man at his and Lana's wedding. And he was godparent to all three of their kids. He was Johnny's oldest and best friend, and Johnny had never been so glad to see anyone in his life.
"Andy. Lana she's -"
"I know," Andy said. "What happened?"
"I don't know."
Andy looked around, lowering his voice, as he too sat down on the step. "What were you doing here, man? I mean, I thought you and she were separated?"
"We were. But you know how it was, Andy. She'd always talk to me and after today, I needed to talk to someone -"
"Were you drinking?"
"I stopped into Hanks after I left work," Johnny confirmed. "And I had a few -"
"How many's a few?" Andy asked. "Two? Three?"
"I lost count after six," Johnny had to admit and saw Andy wince again. "Hank took my car keys and suggested I take a cab home. And home -" Johnny waved his hand, "was here."
"So you took a cab home. What happened then? Did you and Lana argue-?"
"Argue? No. Why would you -" Johnny suddenly realized what was going on. "You don't think that *I*-"
"You know the drill, Johnny. First suspect -"
"Is always the victim's spouse," Johnny finished grimly. "I loved her, Andy. You know that. I could never have done that to her. I mean, she was my *rock*."
"I know that. But they'll still have to ask the questions. I mean, it looks bad, Johnny. You and she were separated, admittedly because of your drinking. You came over here drunk, and tried to talk to her. Maybe she said you couldn't come back, you got mad and -"
"And beat her like I beat up that child molester this morning? No. Number one I have *never* raised a hand to any of my family, even when I was drunk. Number two - that guy this morning was asking for it - and I was stone cold sober, pal. I knew exactly what I was doing this morning." He shook his head. "But I also know that it *does* look bad."
"Who did they assign to the case?" Andy asked, glancing behind them, as if he could see inside the house.
"George and Maria. They're inside, examining the crime scene -" as if on cue, another vehicle pulled up, delivering the crime scene investigation team. A couple of them had worked closely with Johnny and Andy, and walked over to them.
"I thought this was Lt. Collins' scene?" Margie asked.
"It is," Andy told her. "It was Johnny's wife that was killed."
"Oh wow," her partner, Gabe said. "Sorry to hear that, Lieutenant. Who found the body?"
"I did," Johnny told them. "If you want to run your tests, I'll be here. But I should warn you. You'll find my blood all over the place in there. I slipped on some glass when I went in, and cut my knees and palms -" he extended his legs and hands, palms up, to show them the cuts. I've also lived in that house for the last fifteen years, so -"
Gabe nodded, and followed Margie up the steps and into the house. Andy shook his head. "Look, I'll go talk to George and Maria you need to go be with the kids - speaking of the kids -"
"JJ got home a little while ago. He was on a date. Rachel's at a friend's and Henry's spending the night at my mom's."
"Probably a good thing they weren't home. Let me go talk to -" he stood up as George and Maria came back out onto the porch. "Hi, George."
"Andy. I'm surprised to see you here," the detective said.
"Why? I heard the call on the scanner and thought Johnny might need some moral support. Wouldn't you do the same if it were Maria's husband that she found dead?"
"What happened, Johnny?" George asked, ignoring the question.
With a sigh, Johnny recounted the evening's events once more, ending with his trying to administer CPR after Lana stopped breathing.
"Listen, guys," Andy said. "You have to wait for the scene to be processed, right? Johnny needs to be with his kids this evening. If he promises to come in tomorrow morning, can he go now?"
"Go where?" Maria asked.
"My mother lives around the corner," Johnny told her. "559 Laurel. I'll be there with my kids. And I'll be at the station tomorrow morning."
George and Maria looked at each other before George nodded. "Okay. You can go for now. After you're examined by the team."
"I'd already planned on doing that," Johnny informed them. "I want to find out who killed my wife. And the first step in doing that is to eliminate myself as a suspect. Because I did *not* kill her."
Gabe came back out with his kit. "Okay, Johnny, it's your turn. We're going to need those clothes -"
"I have some more upstairs," Johnny told them. "If I can go inside to get them?" he asked George.
"Directly upstairs and stay with him, Martin," George said to Gabe. "You might as well collect your samples at the same time."
Andy drove him over to his mother's house, offering to go inside with him. But Johnny shook his head. "No need. Look, thanks for being here for me -"
"I've known you for almost as long as anyone, Johnny. I know you didn't kill Lana. Give the kids an extra hug for me, and I'll be by tomorrow morning to drive you to the station."
Johnny nodded and got out of the car, heading toward the house. His mother met him at the door, her red-rimmed eyes telling him that JJ had given her the news. Without a word, he pulled her into his arms and held onto her as much as she held onto him. Across the room, Johnny's eyes found those of his younger son. Gently pulling away from his mother's comforting embrace, he squatted down, ignoring the pain in his knees and held out his arms. "Come here, Henry."
The 10 year old moved closer to him, the hazel eyes behind the thick lenses of his glasses filled with tears as they embraced. His head pressed against his dad's broad chest, Henry asked, "Is Mom really dead?" in a voice that told Johnny that he was hoping that it wasn't real, that his father would say that it had all been a horrible mistake.
"I'm afraid so, Champ," he said softly, and felt the boy's body shake even harder than before. Looking up at his mother, Johnny asked, "Where's JJ?"
"He went to get Rachel," she told him.
Several blocks away, four teenage girls were listening to music around a swimming pool, laughing and talking about the things that most 15 year old girls talked about mostly boys. JJ heard the music as Jenny's mother led him through the house to the back patio. Rachel saw him almost immediately and the group fell silent.
"JJ, what are you doing here?" she asked, and then asked, "What's happened? Is it Dad?"
JJ was guessing that she was remembering the time their father had been shot a few years ago, and remembered the terror they had felt until the doctors had assured them that it wasn't serious and that he was going to be okay. But this was worse. "You need to come home, Rachel," he said. The last thing he wanted was to tell her what had happened with all these girls around.
"I'll get your stuff," Jenny volunteered, sliding past JJ into the house.
Rachel grabbed her towel and pulled on the cover that she wore over her bathing suit. "JJ?" she asked again, meeting his dark eyes with hers. "You're scaring me. Something's happened to Dad, hasn't it?"
"We'll talk about it at home," JJ told her, as her friends told her good night and to call them when she could. They started back through the house, Jenny meeting them at the door with a small nylon bag.
"Here," she said, giving it to Rachel. "I hope everything's okay."
Rachel glanced at her brother's face before hugging her friend. "Thanks."
Once in the car, Rachel turned to her brother. "Okay, what's going on?"
"Wait till we get home," he said again.
"Now you're *really* scaring me, JJ." But she fell silent until he turned the car into the driveway of their grandmother's house instead of theirs. "JJ? I thought we were going home?"
The front door opened, and their father come out onto the porch, pale, but otherwise okay. Looking at JJ, she said, "Dad's okay. Is it Gramma? Is she -?"
"No," JJ said in a quiet voice. "It's not Gramma." He took a deep breath, and felt the tears in his eyes again. "It's Mom, Rachel."
"Mom?" Suddenly Rachel was out of the car and heading toward the house where her father was standing. "Daddy? What's going on?" she asked, and he put an arm around her and led her inside the house.
Henry was there and immediately put his arms around her, and she could tell that Gramma had been crying as well. When her dad pulled her to the sofa and sat down with her, Rachel was already shaking her head. "Mom. Did she have an accident or something?"
"Someone broke into the house earlier, honey," her father said. "By the time I got home, it was too late."
"No!" Rachel insisted, shaking her head. "No. She's not She's -" suddenly she buried her face in Johnny's chest and began to cry, bringing fresh tears to the others in the room as JJ and Henry moved closer. "What happened?" she asked once the tears had begun to taper off, leaving her with hiccups and Johnny with a damp tee shirt.
"Whoever broke in beat her up," he said gently.
"Who did it? Do they know yet?"
"No," Johnny told her. "She was alone when I found her." He reached out to cover her hand with his, and saw her eyes move to the blood on his hands before she turned them over to see the small cuts in the palm. "I fell in some glass I think it was from that vase in the entry hall. It must have gotten knocked off the table in the struggle."
Her eyes met his again, dark and accusing. "You should have been there, Dad," she said. "You were out drinking again, weren't you?"
"Rachel, that doesn't matter now -" Georgia McClain began, but Johnny lifted a hand to his mother in a silent request for her to stop.
"It's okay, Mom," he said. "Yes, I was drinking, Rachel," he admitted. "And you're right. I *should* have been at home with her instead. That's something that I'll have to live with for the rest of my life. I loved your mom," he said, including all of the children in his look. "More than anything in the world -"
"Except for booze," Rachel said, and pulled away to leave the room. A moment later, a door down the hall closed behind her.
"I'll go talk to her," JJ said. "Com'on, Henry."
Henry looked at Johnny, who smiled tightly. "Go on. Your sister needs you."
Johnny sat there, hands clasped between his knees, wondering how he was ever going to win back the trust of his children. "She didn't mean it, Johnny," his mother said a moment later.
"She meant it, Mom," Johnny said. "And she's right. But you know why I went there tonight? I was going to tell Lana that I would stop if it meant I could come home, that we could be a family again." He sat forward, his face in his hands. "Now that's not going to happen."
"It can you still have the children, dear," she reminded him, sitting down beside him and rubbing his back. "And they're going to need you more than ever."
"I don't know if I can do it, Mom," he said. "Without Lana, I -"
"Nonsense. After your father died all I wanted to do was curl up and lock myself away. But I couldnt do that. You and your brother needed me. Not that my being around did much for him."
"Jimmy's problems aren't your fault, Mom," Johnny told her. "He made his own choices." James McClain was three years Johnny's junior and after their father's death, in a shoot out with someone trying to rob a convenience store, the 15 year old boy had begun to strike out at everyone and everything with any authority. While Johnny had stayed on the straight and narrow, heading down the path to follow their father as a policeman, Jimmy had gotten into trouble, skipping class, getting involved with the wrong crowd. He'd never been arrested for anything, mostly because his father had been a cop and the locals felt protective of the family of one of their own. "I still wish that he'd been forced to face up the things he did as a kid," Johnny mused. "It might have straightened him out. Any idea where he is these days?"
Georgia sighed heavily. "The last time he called, he was in Phoenix. But that was awhile ago."
"Phoenix?" Johnny repeated in surprise. "What's in Phoenix?"
"He didn't say and I didn't ask, I'm afraid. You know how he is when he calls. He rambles a lot, then doesn't talk -"
"Bet he called collect, too, didn't he?"
"Yes," Georgia confirmed, and then became defensive when Johnny snorted in disgust. "I know you've told me not to accept the charges, Johnny, but *he's* my son too. I can't just turn my back on him."
"Until you do, he's never going to learn to accept responsibility for his actions." Johnny shook his head, and then reached out to take her hand. "I'm sorry, Mom. I shouldn't -"
"You're right. At least I can be here to help you."
"Thanks, Mom. I think I'm going to need a *lot* of help for the foreseeable future."
Georgia grasped his hand, and he winced. Seeing it, she said, "Those cuts need looking after. Come on. Let's go and I'll clean them and wrap your hands in some gauze."
Once they were in the bathroom, he said, "Speaking of brothers. I need to call Carl," referring to Lana's older brother, who was an attorney upstate. "And Lana's Aunt Martha."
"We can do that tomorrow," Georgia said, carefully cleaning the cuts on his hands before wrapping them with a length of gauze. "JJ said that your knees were cut, too?"
"They're fine, Mom," he insisted, watching her sure hands. "My hands got the worst of it. Nice to know that you haven't lost your touch. Have you ever thought about going back to work?"
"To nursing full time in a hospital? No. Things have changed too much for me to enjoy it now, I'm afraid. I'm happy volunteering a few hours a week to help out, but no more than that. Besides, I'm going to be busy taking care of you and my grandchildren."
Her tone was matter of fact. It reminded him of Lana, and how some of the things that he had most admired about her where the things he'd seen in his mother. They were both strong women, neither one suffering fools easily.
There was a knock at the door, and they turned to see Rachel standing there, tears on her face. "Daddy? I'm sorry."
"It's okay, honey," he assured her, pulling her close again. "It's okay."
It was almost midnight before the house was dark and everyone was in their beds. Everyone except Johnny, that is. Unable to sleep, he finally went out into the back yard and sat down in one of the wooden chairs, looking up at the stars. He wanted a drink, but knew that that was the last thing he *needed* at the moment. It was drinking that had gotten him into this mess.
"Dad?" Johnny jerked around as JJ spoke, surprised by his appearance. "Sorry. I couldnt sleep and wanted to talk to you but you weren't on the sofa -"
"I couldn't sleep either," Johnny said, indicating the other chair. "Have a seat."
The silence stretched on for several minutes, with Johnny trying to find something to say. Finally, just as he was about to ask if JJ blamed him, JJ spoke again.
"They think you did it, don't they?" he asked. "Those other cops, I mean."
Johnny took a deep breath before sitting forward, keeping his voice soft in the darkness that surrounded them. "Yeah," he confirmed. "But you've been a cop's son long enough to know that the first suspect is *always* a close family member in cases like this. Usually the husband. Once they realize that I didn't do it, they'll find the person who did."
"But it looks bad, right? I mean, you and mom were separated because you've been drinking so much, and then you beat up that guy this morning -"
"About that, JJ -"
"I went online before I went to sleep," he said. "I found the local reports about it. He was a creep, and deserved what he got -"
"No. What I did this morning was over the line," Johnny said. "Violence toward anyone at least at that level - is never justified."
"But you saved that little girl's life, right?"
"Yeah. But I was over the line Using your fists should *always* be the last resort, son. Use your head first."
"Anyway, you beat him up-"
"And caused him to die. But I didn't hit him. I pushed him into the wall to stop him from getting hold of a gun."
JJ considered that before speaking again. "And then you got drunk and went home -."
"And found her almost dead," Johnny nodded, realizing what he'd said only when he saw JJ's surprise. "She was breathing, and opened her eyes once before she stopped. I started CPR until the paramedics got there, but it was too late. Probably too much internal damage. . ." He closed his eyes, and then opened them as an image of those last moments appeared behind his lids. It was one of the reasons why he hadn't been able to sleep.
"I'm just saying that I can understand why they would think you might have done it."
"JJ, have you ever seen me raise a hand in anger toward your mother or any of you children?"
"No. Heck, you and mom hardly even argued around us," he said. "My friends always envied me that," he confided. "Most of their parents were either already divorced to about to divorce and argued constantly. But you and mom it was like you always agreed with each other on everything."
"No," Johnny said with a small smile. "We didn't. But we kept our disagreements civil and tried not to involve you or your sister and brother."
"The only time I remember you arguing so that we could hear was the night -"
"The night I left the house," Johnny nodded. He and Lana had had a major blow up that night. The police had even been called by a neighbor who heard the angry voices and knew that Lana was worried about his drinking too much. "Your mom called the next day and apologized for the things she said, JJ. And told me that I was welcome to come back home if I stopped drinking."
"I know. She told us about having made the call. She wanted us to know that she still loved you -" Johnny lifted a hand to wipe away the tear that fell down his cheek hearing that, "but that she wanted you to make the choice between us and drinking." He took a deep breath. "Why did you start drinking so much, Dad?" he wanted to know. "I mean, I remember you having a couple of drinks after you got home from work, but all of a sudden you seemed to have a glass in your hand all the time -"
"I don't know. Your mother thought it had to do with my being shot three years ago. That's about the time that it started, anyway. Maybe she's maybe she *was* right. I know that I was a lot more wary of suspects after that happened. There was a lot of anger - and I was determined not to let it affect my family. So maybe I started drinking to try and dull that anger. Stupid idea, I guess."
"I guess. But- you saw that department psychiatrist -"
"I knew what she wanted to hear and said it," Johnny explained. "It's an old dodge used by cops for years, JJ. We think we're invincible."
"But you're not."
Johnny shook his head. "No. We're not. I was supposed to go talk to the department head doctor about what happened this morning when I left the station this afternoon. Decided to go have a few drinks instead," he continued ruefully.
"What happens tomorrow?" He shrugged. "I heard you tell Gramma that Uncle Andy was going to pick you up."
"I'll go into the station and talk to the detectives, then go see the psychiatrist, and then come home."
"You *will* come home, though, right?" JJ asked, and Johnny realized that he was worried about losing a second parent.
"Yeah, I'll be home. And I'm going to do better from here on out. No more drinking. That's what I was going to tell your mom tonight. That I was going to quit and become the man she had married again."
"I don't think she thought you'd ever changed, Dad. She loved you."
"Yeah, I know. And I loved her." Johnny blinked away a tear. "You'd better go get some sleep. Tomorrow's going to be a long day for all of us."
"Okay." He rose from where he'd been sitting, and then hesitated. "Aren't you going to bed?"
"In a little while. Night."
Johnny watched him enter the house before sitting back in the chair and looking up at the heavens.
"Dad, there's TV news van outside," Rachel told him as he came into the kitchen after taking a shower the next morning.
"What?" he asked, glancing at his mother as he took a cup of coffee from her.
"They've been there since dawn," his mother told him. "They've probably picked up what's happened and after yesterday, you're still news."
"Damn," he muttered. Taking a sip of the coffee to clear his head, he looked at the kids. "I don't want you to talk to them. If they insist, first say "no comment" and then get back inside and lock the door. Understood?"
They all nodded as a chorus of "Yes, sir," filled the air.
"If they've aired anything, then I need to call Carl before he hears about it on the news." His cell phone was in the police evidence lab so he picked up the cordless phone. "I'll pay for the call, Mom -"
"Don't worry about it, dear. Come on, kids. Let's go upstairs and make the beds while your father makes his call."
"I already made my bed," Henry told her, obviously not wanting to leave his father's side.
"Then you can help me," JJ told him. "Com'on, li'l bro."
Johnny dialed Carl's cell number, hoping that he remembered it correctly, and then waited for him to answer. "Hello?"
"Carl, it's John."
"You're calling from your mother's," Carl said. "I was wondering who would be calling me from this number what's up?"
"Could you and your aunt come down here, Carl?"
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Something happened last night Lana There's no easy way to say this -" He took a deep breath. "Lana's dead."
"Okay, let's go through it again, Johnny," George Collins said as they sat across a table from each other in one of the interrogation rooms. "You left the station at three fifteen -"
Johnny sighed. "After Capt. Carrington told me to go talk to the department psychiatrist."
"But you didn't go."
"No. I went to Hank's. He'll confirm that I was there until almost eight."
"You were in a bar for almost five hours?"
He nodded. "I got there around four. So it was closer to four hours. But yeah."
"That's a lot of drinks."
"Anyone there will confirm that I drink a lot. Have you talked to Hank?"
"He wasn't at home or his bar. We're trying to find him," Maria Morales explained. "How did you get home?"
"Hank called a cab when he took my car keys," Johnny said.
"What cab company? Cab number?"
"Hey, I'm lucky to remember that it was a cab," Johnny told them. "I don't remember a lot of what happened very clearly. But I do remember that it was yellow, and that the driver was Caucasian, with dark hair. He was also short."
"He got out to help me into the cab," he explained, and held a hand to his shoulder. "Came up to about here, I think. Hard to tell, since I wasn't exactly standing up straight at the time."
"The driver took you home?"
"Why? You and your wife were separated, weren't you?"
"We were having some problems," Johnny confirmed. "She wasn't happy with my drinking so much." He shrugged. "I needed to see her. To talk about what happened yesterday. To tell her that I would quit drinking, do whatever she wanted if I could move back home."
Collins checked his notes. "Three weeks ago you were escorted off the property by an officer who came in response to a call from a neighbor who reported raised voices and was concerned for your family's safety because you were drunk at the time."
"The neighbor knew that Lana was concerned about my drinking they were *never* in any danger. Is there any other record of police being called to my house for a domestic disturbance?" Johnny asked.
"Not that we've found any record of," Collins answered, and Johnny heard what he *hadn't* said: that there might have been such calls but that they had been 'lost' in the system, as sometimes tended to happen when it came to protecting the 'thin blue line'.
"My kids will tell you that I never hurt any of them or their mother. Find Hank. He can tell you what time I got to the bar and when he called the cab and can tell you what company he called. From there you'll be able to find the cab driver to verify my story."
"We'll do that, Johnny," Maria said. "But the fact that your blood was on Lana's clothes, and you were found with her body -"
"Of *course* my blood was on her body, dammit!" Johnny declared, dropping his gauze-wrapped fist onto the table in frustration. "I cut my hands on broken glass in the entryway and then I tried to keep her alive until the ambulance got there! I wasn't worried about contaminating the scene, I was trying to save my *wife*!"
"Calm down, Johnny," Collins said. "You're not helping your case by losing your temper."
Aware that the other detective was right, Johnny took a few deep breaths before asking, "Did you talk to the neighbors?"
"One of them reported seeing someone approaching the house," Maria told him, "but they couldn't swear it was you, just someone who fits your general description."
"And I bet I can tell you which neighbor that was," Johnny said, shaking his head. "Next door to the right. Mrs. Hamilton." He saw Collins look over at his partner, confirming the statement. "She's also the one who called the police three weeks ago. She's an elderly widow who blames the police for her husband's death thirty years ago. She's never liked me for that reason."
"Be that as it may, Johnny, the evidence so far leads us to believe that you left the bar after drinking, and went home. There was some kind of confrontation between you and your wife, and it escalated into you losing your temper and lashing out. Then you realized what you'd done and called for help."
Johnny shook his head continually as Collins spoke. "You're wrong, George. I would never have hurt Lana. I know that there's a high incidence of domestic problems with police officers. But this isn't one of those cases. Listen, someone broke into that house and murdered my wife -"
George shook his head. "There was no sign of forced entry, so she let whoever it was inside or they had a key-"
"My keys were at Hank's," Johnny interjected. "He took them, remember? Car keys *and* house keys." He knew that it didn't exclude him from the murder, since Lana would have opened the door to let him in, but it was something, anyway. "My car's still parked there. Has been since yesterday afternoon," he said, sitting back, arms across his chest. "Check it out."
"We will," George Collins said. "Who else would have had a reason to kill her?"
"Everyone loved Lana," he said. "She didn't have any enemies. It was probably a robbery -"
"Nope. Nothing's missing. All of her credit cards are in her purse. "
"She always carried some cash around," Johnny told them. "She'd had problems with the credit cards not working when the phone lines were down and started carrying at least fifty in her purse. If it wasn't there, someone took it."
"Her laptop was on the table in the living room," Maria told him.
"She was probably working on case notes. She did that when she was alone so the family wouldn't accidentally see them."
"She had an inheritance, am I right?" George questioned.
"It goes to the kids," he said, running a hand over his face and around his neck in an attempt to keep his temper. "I told her to set it up that way her brother is the executor. So killing her wouldn't have gotten me any money, if that's where you're trying to go. You're welcome to check it out. Her brother will be here this afternoon. He can confirm what I've told you."
"The 9-1-1 dispatcher claims that when she was on the phone with you, she heard you ask your wife who had done that to her," Maria noted, changing the subject. "And she said your name."
"Of course she said my name," Johnny replied, suddenly drained. "She was surprised to see me there. She was dying. If I'd done it, would she have said my *name*?" he questioned. "Wouldn't she have just said "you" instead?"
"And the paramedics, along with the original officers on the scene claim that you apologized after they arrived, telling her you were sorry -"
"I was sorry because I wasn't *there*," Johnny said. "I should have been. If I had, then she'd still be alive right now. I was sorry that I let her down. Anything else? I have to get back to my kids and plan a funeral."
"Don't go too far, Johnny," Collins told him. "We'll have the coroner's preliminary report this afternoon."
"You know where I'll be."
Johnny left the interrogation room, only to find himself confronted by his boss, Susan Carrington. "Captain," he said. After their 'conversation' the previous morning, Johnny still wasn't very happy with the older, graying woman.
"We need to talk, Johnny," he said. "My office. Now."
As they passed through the ready room, Johnny took note of the faces of the officers and other detectives on duty. Most of them glanced away quickly when they saw his eyes, as if they weren't able to look him in the face. Carrington closed the door behind them before going to sit down behind the desk. "You were supposed to go see Dr. Lacy yesterday. She told me that you never showed."
"I had other things to do."
"Like getting drunk and ending up the main suspect in your wife's murder?" Carrington shot back. Her face and tone softened as she spoke again. "I'm sorry about Lana, Johnny."
"Not as much as I am."
"I'm getting heat from downtown, Johnny," Carrington said. "Internal Affairs is going to take over the investigation of what happened last night, combining it with the incident yesterday morning."
"IAD??" Johnny questioned in disbelief. "I admit that I stepped over the line with Graves. I still saved that little girl's life, kept her from becoming his third *murder* victim. At least she's alive."
"His girlfriend is talking about filing police brutality charges against you and the department."
"He attacked Andy, and got his weapon. I had no choice but to try to stop him," Johnny said. "If I hadn't, he would have used that gun on me and Andy, and probably that little girl."
Carrington nodded. "You're right, Johnny, but the prospect of another high publicity brutality charge even this one - is making the guys downtown nervous. Then what happened last night - you being drunk, going back home even though you and your wife were separated - it doesn't help the situation." He took a deep breath. "You're suspended, Johnny. With pay, until this is all resolved."
He'd known that it was coming, but Johnny was still shocked hearing the words. Shock gave way to anger as Carrington spoke again.
"I need your badge and weapon."
"My weapon's locked in the trunk of my car - which is still parked at Hank's," he said, reaching into his pocket to pull out his shield. Tossing it onto Carrington's desk, he said, "But you can have this."
Carrington didn't touch it, just looked up at him. "Go see Dr. Lacy, Johnny. That's a start to getting it back. And don't just tell her what she wants to hear this time, okay? She's there to help."
Johnny nodded sharply, and then turned to the door as Carrington spoke once more. "This isn't personal, Johnny. And I meant that I was sorry about Lana. I know how much she meant to you. If you need anything don't hesitate to call."
"Thanks," Johnny said, opening the door and going to his desk. There was a small box beneath it where he kept a few things. Luckily, it wasn't too full for his purposes. Picking it up, he began to gather up his personal items from the desk: the picture of the kids and of Lana. Looking at her smiling face, he ran a finger over the glass. Johnny had to fight not to break down. That was the last thing he needed to do: end up crying like a baby in the middle of the ready room. The pencil holder that Rachel had made in fourth grade, the drink coaster that Henry had made a year ago, the photo of JJ holding up the baseball uniform shirt that he would wear next year at UCLA they all went into the box, along with the box of cigars that he kept hidden in the back of the middle drawer. Those had been a birthday gift from Andy. He'd kept them here instead of the house, since Lana hadn't liked for him to smoke them at home. So he had taken to smoking them only on special occasions - such as the successful end of a case.
Deciding he'd gotten everything, Johnny picked up the box and turned toward the doors only to see that five or six of his fellow officers were gathered between his desk and the exit including his partner, Andy Devlin. He stopped, giving them a wary look.
Andy spoke first, "We just wanted to let you know that we're behind you, Johnny," he said. "And if there's anything we can do for you let us know."
"Thanks," Johnny said, looking at each of them. "I will." He needed to get out of there before he totally embarrassed himself, so he said, "I need to get going. The kids -"
"Sure." They parted to let him through, and Johnny made his escape, suddenly realizing that he didn't have a ride as Andy appeared. "Take my car," he said, holding out his keys.
"Andy, I can't -"
"I can get a ride later to pick it up. Take it."
"This won't last long, Johnny," he said as Johnny took the keys. "The press is going to have a field day trying to paint Graves as the victim here, but once Marie Adams starts to talk, that will change. Don't worry about it. Just worry about those kids."
"I will. Thanks again," he said, holding up the keys.
"I'm glad you came to see me," Dr. Jan Lacy said as she sat down across from Johnny. "I wish you had come yesterday."
"So do I," was Johnny's rueful reply. "My life was a mess before, but it's a total disaster today."
"I'm sorry about your wife -"
"Everyone's sorry, but that doesn't stop them from thinking that I did it."
The bluntness took Johnny by surprise. "No! I loved Lana more than myself. She was what kept me going, even during these last three weeks. We talked every day on the phone; saw each other when I would come to get the kids for the day. As long as I was sober, we got along fine."
"But you weren't sober last night."
"No, but I was when we found Anthony Lee Graves," he answered. He wasn't ready to delve into Lana's murder just yet.
"Why don't we talk about that?" Dr. Lacy suggested. "Your partner was injured, wasn't he?"
"Yes. Graves got Andy's gun. I got it away from him, but he made a try for mine, and I pushed him away-"
Lacy frowned, flipping through the papers in front of her. "You were shot three years ago when a suspect grabbed your gun, weren't you?"
"Yeah," Johnny nodded, suddenly realizing what he'd said. "Damn. Is that why I -?"
"You were also concerned about that little girl, weren't you?"
He nodded. "My son is the same age as she is -"
"So anytime a case involves a child, you tend to work harder to get to the truth, would you agree?"
"Of course. If anyone ever hurt any of my kids, I'd -" he managed a wry smile. "For someone who told his son last night that violence isn't the right way to go, I sound pretty violent, don't I?"
"I think the feeling of wanting to protect a child is natural. Even if that child isn't your own." She looked thoughtful. "Tell me what happened."
Johnny went through the entire incident, from his decision to go into the warehouse, until he had rescued Marie Adams.
"If you were in the same situation again, what do you think you would do?"
"Alone with a suspect who tries to grab for your weapon."
"I would hope that I would stop him and back away, maybe handcuff him so that he couldn't complete the move."
"Why wasn't Graves handcuffed?"
"We didn't have a chance. As soon as he came out of the room, he shoved Andy back into the wall, and grabbed his gun. No way was I going to let him get away or have a chance to use the gun."
"You're still angry about being shot aren't you?"
"I guess. It shouldn't have happened at all."
"Tell me about what happened that day."
"We were chasing a couple of suspects in an assault. Andy and I split up when they did. I followed my guy into an alley. It was dark, and I thought he'd doubled back and that I'd lost him. Suddenly he hit me from behind and knocked me onto the pavement we struggled, and he got to my gun first, and pulled the trigger."
"What could you have done differently?"
"Not followed him into that alley alone. It was a rookie mistake I should have stayed at the entrance and called Andy on the radio to cover me. As a result, I ended up on my back for a week with a wound in my left shoulder."
"Why didn't you wait, then?"
"Heat of the moment, maybe. Maybe I thought I was invincible. But I shouldn't have. My dad was killed in a shoot out."
"Your father was a policeman, too, wasn't he?"
"Yes. I was almost 18 when he died."
"But you still went into law enforcement, even knowing the dangers."
"Family tradition. My father was a cop, *his* father was a cop I never thought I'd be anything else. Never "wanted" to do anything else."
"Was your wife supportive of your career?"
"Very much so," he said. "She was my rock. Everything I did was because I wanted to protect my family."
"When did your drinking increase?"
"Right after I got shot. No, after I went back to work."
"Do you know why that was?"
"I was angry," he said, lifting his shoulders. "That guy almost took me from my family, and I started thinking that every perp I chased might try it again and this time be successful. The anger started spilling over at home. I snapped at the kids more than I ever had - I guess drinking dulled that anger enough so that I could go home and not put them through that." He sat back, shaking his head. "I guess over time it started taking more and more alcohol to do that."
"And what happens now? You're a single parent with three children who are depending on your being there for them. Can you do that?"
"I don't have any choice."
"There are always choices, Johnny," Lacy said. "I've seen men who lose their wives crawl into a bottle and never come out. And I've seen them turn it around and never touch another drop. It's a choice that you have to make."
As he was leaving Dr. Lacy's office, Johnny heard someone call his name. "Johnny."
He turned to find Asst. District Attorney Charlotte Graham. "Hi, Charlotte," he said. John had known Charlotte for almost twenty years first because her father, a now retired police man had been one of John's mentors in his early days in the department - Charlotte had babysat for the older McClain children while still a teenager. After Charlotte had finished law school and had joined the District Attorney's office, they had worked on more than one case together. Lana had considered the younger woman to be a surrogate younger sister.
"You just came from seeing Dr. Lacy, I guess?" she asked. He could see that her eyes were red, as if she'd been crying.
"Guilty, Counselor," he confirmed, wincing at the bad joke as he tried to lighten the atmosphere.
She didn't respond with her normal smile. "I have to talk to her about some testimony in an upcoming case," she told him. "I wanted to call -" she began, then closed her mouth and he saw her swallow, her eyes filling with tears.
Johnny glanced around, glad that the corridor was empty of anyone other than the two of them. He put a hand out to rest on her arm. "I know, Charlotte."
She took a deep breath, as if drawing from his strength. "I'm glad I ran into you. I'm sorry about -"
Johnny lifted his hand. "Thanks, Charlotte. But I've heard that too much today already But I do appreciate the sentiment."
"It's so hard to believe. We had lunch
yesterday like we always do on Fridays ---
How are you doing?"
"Honestly, Charlotte, I'm a wreck. It still seems like a bad dream. Like I'll wake up and Lana will still be alive, waiting for me at home."
"And the kids?"
"About the same. They're with my mom," he explained. "I'm on my way back there had to go talk to Collins and Morales - and then to Capt. Carrington."
"I'm sorry about that, too," she said. "I don't think that IAD will find anything of any real merit but it could get messy."
"I know. Looks like I might be looking for another job soon."
"You could work as an investigator for the DA's office," she told him. "We occasionally use private detectives on cases."
"Me? Become a PI?" he asked, frowning, then shook his head. "I don't think so."
"It's an option," she told him. "Of course, it would depend on your willingness to stop drinking -"
Her blue eyes searched his face. "You're not going to tell me that you would give almost anything for a drink right now."
"Yes, I would. But I'll work it out."
"It's easier with help," she told him, and took a card out of her purse. "Here."
Johnny looked at the card. "What's this?"
"It's an alcohol support group. Mostly cops and ex-cops. Dad goes there and swears by it. They meet on Monday evenings and Wednesday mornings."
"Thanks. I'll check it out."
"And if you need anything -"
"I'll let you know," he finished, having heard *that* as well too many times over the last few hours. "Thanks."
Hank looked up as the two people entered the bar. "We're not open yet," he said.
"We're just here for a little information," the man said, pulling out a badge to show him. "I'm Lt. Collins. This is my partner, Detective Morales."
"What can I do for you?"
"John McClain. Do you know him?" the woman asked.
"Johnny? Sure. I heard about his wife. Tough break. Poor guy."
"Was he here yesterday?"
"Sure was. Got here around four, I think. Maybe a little before that. Sat right there on that bar stool for the next four hours, drinking bourbon and water."
"Never left before that?"
"Only time he went anywhere was to the bathroom, but he was always back here in a couple of minutes for another drink. Why? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Collins said. "What time did he leave?"
"I called him a cab around eight. I guess the cab found him he walked out before I got the call made. I was worried about him getting hit by a car. He was three sheets to the wind. Could barely stand up, much less walk a straight line or watch for cross traffic."
"What cab company did you call?"
"Same one I always call for customers when they're had to much to drive: City Cab. Johnny's not in any trouble, is he? He's a good guy, just tends to drink too much at times."
Johnny parked Andy's car in the street in front of the house. There was still yellow tape across the front door and he saw Mrs. Hamilton in her front yard, tending to her flowers. While he wanted to go into the house and look around, Johnny was loathe to revisit the scene of his wife's murder just yet, so he turned his steps toward the small house next door.
"Hello, Mrs. Hamilton."
"Mr. McClain," she said, frowning, her entire air one of disapproval. "I thought you'd be in jail."
"Not yet. And I won't be- because I didn't kill Lana."
"Humph!" she said, clearly not believing him. "You and she fought all the time about your drinking. And I've heard stories about how policemen have problems keeping their tempers. You hear all the time about them hitting their wives or kids."
"Mrs. Hamilton, I've said it before, but I'm sorry that your husband died, but it wasn't the fault of the police."
"And I've heard *that* before," she told him, looking nervous. "Now get away from me. I don't need you here threatening me."
"I haven't threatened you," he said, lifting his hands in surrender and backing away as she asked. "But I'll go."
Back on the sidewalk, he looked at the house again. There was no sign of a bloody shoe print on the gray paint of the porch, and on a hunch, Johnny walked around the porch toward the second door. Sure enough, there was a marker still there, circling a bloody shoe print moving toward the steps that lead down to the driveway. It was on the side of the porch away from Mrs. Hamilton's house. If the killer had come out and gone that way, she wouldn't have seen him leaving, and would have thought whoever came in earlier the person she had claimed might be Johnny - was still in the house. Obviously, she hadn't been watching when a cab had dropped him off in front of the house just moments before Lana had died, he decided ruefully.
Ducking beneath the tape on that side door, Johnny went inside and saw the trail of shoe prints leading out of the kitchen toward the door. Surprised that the killer would have been in the kitchen, he backtracked, letting the foot prints lead him back to the door into the living room. Not ready to go back in there, Johnny turned and retraced the steps, toward the sink area, then to a stop in front of the china cabinet. One of the doors was slightly ajar it had always stuck, no matter what he'd done to try and fix it. Unless you knew the trick, it would refuse to close completely. And that's when he saw it. The antique soup tureen with a lid that always sat on the top self - had been moved, and the lid wasn't seated as it should have been.
"What are you doing here, McClain?" George Collins asked, entering the kitchen from the living room doorway.
"Just looking around. Let me guess: Mrs. Hamilton called and told you that I was here snooping around."
"You're right. Only she said 'sneaking'," George confirmed with a tight grin. "Why are you here?"
"Well, since you guys aren't going to investigate this -"
"We are. You've been suspended -"
"But she was *still* my wife. And while I didn't do it, I know that it *was* someone she knew," Johnny told the other detective.
"How do you know?"
"Because they took the money in Lana's purse and then came in here -" he pointed out the bloody footprints. "Whoever killed her stopped right here, in front of the china cabinet."
"We saw that last night, but nothing looked out of place," Collins had to admit.
"Someone opened this door -" he pointed out that it wasn't closed all the way. "You're welcome to search me for any money before you look but there should be almost five hundred dollars in that tureen on the top shelf."
Collins gave him a doubtful look. "Do you have any rubber gloves in here?"
"That drawer beside the sink. She keeps kept - latex gloves in there for food preparation." Collins got the gloves out and slipped a pair on before opening the cabinet door and lifting the tureen out of it to place it onto the counter. The lacquer finish was cracked with age, and there was a chip out of the lid.
"It belonged to Lana's grandmother," Johnny explained when George gave him a curious look. "It was one of her most prized possessions."
George nodded and lifted the lid. "It's empty," he confirmed. "Who knew that money was kept in here?"
"Only Lana, the kids, my mom, and me as far as I know. And my brother, Jimmy," he added as an afterthought.
"He's not even in the state, George," Johnny said. "Mom said he called her a few weeks ago from Arizona. He's a drifter, doesn't stay long in one place. Last time I saw him was five years ago."
"What about friends of your son and daughter? One of them might have needed money and your wife would have let them into the house if she knew them."
"We know all of their friends, and I can't believe that any of them would have done something like this," Johnny insisted. "You sound like you don't think I killed her, George."
"The coroner confirmed that Lana died from massive internal bleeding. And it looks like something was used to hit her not fists. Strange thing is that looks like whoever killed her tried to strangle her at one point - there's some bruising. But not enough to kill her. Maybe she was unconscious from that before -" he trailed off. "She was probably lying on that floor for half an hour before you got here. Her watch was broken -- stopped at 7:58. We talked to Hank. He confirmed that you left his place at 8 on the dot. And even with a driver driving the speed limit, it would have taken you at least half an hour to get here from there. Your call came in at 8:35. Maria's trying to track down the cab driver right now, but I'm pretty sure that you weren't here at the time that it went down."
Johnny bowed his head as the relief swept over him. "So what now?"
"We'll start talking to family friends who could have known about that money, see if anyone suddenly has more cash than before. I hope you know that this wasn't personal, Johnny. I was just doing my job."
"I know, George."
"We will need to talk to the kids, though -"
"Let me do that, George?" Johnny asked. "I mean, after everything they've been through -"
George nodded as his cell rang. "Collins," he answered. "Yeah, Maria, what did he say?" He looked at Johnny. "Okay, then. That confirms the alibi. I've found some new evidence at the McClain house. I'll meet you back at the station after I get the crime scene people over here to do some more dusting."
"You won't find any prints," Johnny told him after he'd ended the call.
He pointed to a dish towel hanging on a rack over the sink. "There are supposed to be two of those. It's part of a set that the kids got her for Mother's Day last year."
"Maybe it was used and got put into the dirty clothes," George suggested. "You've been out of the house for three weeks."
"Look at this one, George," Johnny insisted, pulling the remaining towel out. "It's *never* used. The one we use is usually in the middle -" he indicated the rod again. That one was missing as well, so he looked around, finding that towel on another counter near the dishwasher. "There it is. The match to this one isn't here." He lead George to the right side of the room and into the laundry room, then started going through the dirty clothes as George looked around.
"He didn't come in here, Johnny. There's no blood trail."
Johnny glanced at the floor, realizing that he was right. The floor was clean. "Then he took it with him."
"We'll search the area. Maybe he threw it away and it might give us a clue as to which direction he went in if we can find it." George lead the way back into the kitchen. "Lana was a psychologist, wasn't she?"
"She was a psychiatrist," Johnny corrected. "Why?"
"Maybe one of her patients could have -"
"No. She only handled children. Younger than ten, mostly. And none of them knew where she lived even though she worked out of the house."
"She didn't have an office?"
"No. She kept her files on her laptop computer and various flash drives. If she met a client, it was always at the client's home. Said it made them more at ease, especially children."
George nodded. "I'd still like to have a look through the files maybe a parent or someone involved with one of the kids she's been helping."
"They still wouldn't have known about the money," Johnny pointed out. "Most of her cases were through the LAPD. You could talk to the DA's office and see what they can tell you about those cases." George nodded again. "I'll talk to the kids. Right now, I have to get over to Mom's Lana's brother and aunt are due to arrive before long -"
"I'll keep you informed if we find anything."
"Thanks." They shook hands before Johnny left the house, getting back into Andy's car to drive to his mother's.
"I was starting to worry, dear," his mother said when he entered the house.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I need to replace my cell," he told her as they entered the living room where the kids were waiting. He could tell that they were waiting for news about his interview with the detectives handling their mother's murder investigation, so he didn't make them wait. "I'm on suspension but not because of your mom's death. That's because of the incident that took place yesterday. The good news is that I'm officially no longer a suspect in her murder."
The sigh of relief was loud as the three children and his mother relaxed slightly at the news. "Do they have any other leads, then?" JJ wanted to know.
"That's what I need to talk to all of you about. Did any of you ever tell anyone about the money we kept in the soup tureen?" he wanted to know.
"The money's gone?" Rachel questioned, her eyes wide.
"Yes, along with the money that your mother kept in her purse for emergencies."
"I never told anyone about it, Dad," JJ told him.
"Neither did I," both Rachel and Henry said. "You always told us not to tell *anyone*, Dad," Henry added.
"So I did," Johnny recalled. "Why don't you three go outside and wait for Uncle Carl and Aunt Martha?" he suggested. "They should be here any minute."
Rachel stopped as they were heading for the door. "Dad, we need some clothes can we go over to the house and -"
"No," Johnny said with more force than he intended. Seeing the concern appear on the faces of his children, he softened his tone and shook his head. "It's still a crime scene yellow tape everywhere. Until they release it, we aren't supposed to be there. But if you'll make a list of what you all need, I'll see what I can do, okay?"
"Okay," JJ agreed, leading his sister and brother out of the house and onto the front porch to wait.
"I can't believe that Lana was killed by someone she knew," Georgia said once the children were out of earshot. "It's a horrible thought."
"Yeah," Johnny mused, then turned to look at her. "Mom, I when did you say that you last talked to Jimmy?"
"I don't think that I did say but it was well over a month ago. Why?"
"Jimmy knew about the tureen," Johnny reminded her, and saw the realization appear on her face.
"You don't think Oh, Johnny, I know that Jimmy's had some problems, but I can't believe that he would do something like that and I don't want to believe that you think he could have done it. He liked Lana you know that. The last time he was here, she talked to him - tried to help him-."
"I know. I don't want to think it, Mom, but who else could it have been?"
"Maybe he told one of his friends, and that person happened to find himself in the area and decided to see if he could find the money -"
"And why would Lana have let a total stranger into the house?" Johnny asked.
Georgia looked for a moment as though she was considering his words, then she shook her head again. "No. I refuse to believe it. Jimmy could *never* have killed anyone, especially not Lana. I don't want to hear you say such things. He's your *brother*, Johnny."
The sound of a car pulling into the drive and JJ calling out, "They're here!" brought an end to the conversation.
Georgia turned and left the room, heading toward the front door, leaving Johnny with no choice but to follow her.
Carl Markham was a few years older than his sister had been. Having gone through two messy divorces, he had sworn off making a third try at the institution, and had openly envied his sister's happy and long-lived marriage. While his position heading up a criminal law firm in Sacramento kept him busy, he had always made time to send birthday presents and to visit for holidays, along with his aunt, who had raised both he and Lana after their parents' deaths in a car accident when Carl had been fifteen.
Martha Markham-Colson lived with Carl in the capital. She was around the same age as Georgia, and the two women got along relatively well, even though they were from different ends of the social spectrum. While Georgia had been raised in a middle class home, and married a policeman, Martha had been from a family with money, married a man who's family had money. Even now, her professionally styled blue hair was perfect and she was dressed expensively as well. His mother's mostly white hair was cut short for ease of care and she was wearing slacks and a blouse she'd had for years.
Now, the two women embraced tearfully before Martha turned to hug the kids. "You've all grown so much," she said, sniffling and raising a handkerchief to her eyes. "And doesn't Rachel look just like her mother, Carl?"
"Yes," Carl agreed. "She does."
"Why don't you guys take Aunt Martha inside," Johnny suggested. "I need to talk to your Uncle Carl."
"I'll make some coffee," Georgia said, leading Martha and the kids back into the house, leaving the two men on the porch.
Carl stood looking out over the yard as he began to talk. "You know, when Lana told me that she was going to marry you, I tried to talk her out of it."
"I know," Johnny said. "Said that I wasn't good enough for her, that she shouldn't tie herself down to someone who was crazy enough to want to be a cop." It had always bothered Johnny a little that Lana had chosen to give up what could have been a very easy life to marry him, knowing that he was going to be a policeman.
"I was wrong," Carl said. "Lana was happy. I could tell that every time we talked every time I came to visit. She adored you. Even after she called to tell me that she had asked you to leave because of the drinking - I knew she still loved you and hoped you'd come home eventually."
"I loved her," Johnny said in a quiet, choked voice. "And I'm sorry that I wasn't there to keep her safe -"
"I won't say that it wasn't your fault but I'm not going to play the guilt card, either. I've seen enough over the years to know how things can go wrong quickly. All anyone can do is to enjoy the time they have. And you and Lana had twenty wonderful years. What happened?"
Johnny went back over the events of the previous night and that morning, confirming that he had been put on suspension until the Graves case was settled and that he'd been suspected of and cleared of Lana's murder. "The thing is, it had to be someone she knew. You know how she was she wouldn't have opened that door for a stranger - not after dark and in the house alone. The missing money points to someone she knew, too."
"I can't believe that she still has still *had* that tureen. Grandmother's cook was going to throw it out, but Lana insisted that she wanted it for some reason. And why on earth was she keeping that much cash in the house to begin with?"
"She was convinced that there was going to be another earthquake and we'd need the money," Johnny told him. After the last big quake, she had become worried about having cash on hand for any future emergencies. "You know what she was like."
"Well, at least you won't have to worry about money if you can't go back to the department," Carl mused, and Johnny frowned.
"What are you talking about?"
"This might not be the right time but a few years ago, Lana redid her will. The kids still get the bulk of her estate but she wanted to make sure that you'd be okay if something happened to her -"
"I told her that I didn't want any of that money, Carl," Johnny insisted. "It belongs to the kids -"
"She wanted you to have it. So she divided it four ways instead of three. If it's invested right, you shouldn't have to worry about a job if you don't want to."
"The only time we ever touched her money was to buy the house," Johnny said. "She dipped into it to make the down payment and help with the renovations we had to make immediately."
"Why would she do that? I mean, I always figured that I'd be the one to go first. With my job -"
"Maybe Lana knew something that we didn't," Carl suggested softly. "She was always one for long range planning. I can remember when she was fifteen, she was already certain that she wanted to become a child psychiatrist and help kids. And she made that happen."
"I don't know what I'm going to do without her," Johnny said.
"Take care of the kids. And Lana leaving you that money will make that easier."
Johnny shook his head. "And I told the investigating detectives that I wasn't going to inherit any of Lana's money."
"She didn't want you to know about it. I think she thought you would insist that she change the will again to remove that codicil."
"I would have."
"At least you've been cleared. Do you have any idea who -?"
Johnny glanced toward the house. "The only other person besides the kids, mom and me who knew about that money is my brother."
"Jimmy?" Carl questioned, his eyes wide. "Is he in town?"
"Not that I know of. Mom said that he called her awhile back and was in Phoenix."
"Does your mom know -?"
"Yeah. We were talking about it when you guys got here. She refuses to even consider the possibility."
"Of course she does. He's her son. Admitting that he's gone that far over the line wouldn't be easy for her."
"She's always made excuses for him, blamed herself for his problems. But I grew up in the same house, and I didn't end up like he did." He managed a self depreciating grin, "except for being an alcoholic, anyway."
"I don't think you're anywhere near as bad as he is."
"That's something, anyway."
Henry appeared on the porch. "Dad, Gramma says that the coffee's ready and wants to know if you and Uncle Carl are going to come inside."
"I think that might be code for 'please come in here and rescue us from Aunt Martha'," Carl told Johnny, and they saw Henry look a little worried.
"Hey, it's okay, Henry," Carl said, ruffling the boy's hair as they joined him. "She can be a little intimidating if you're not around her on an everyday basis."
Inside, Georgia gave the two men some coffee before she said, "Martha has a wonderful idea, Johnny."
"Oh? What's that?" Johnny asked.
Martha put her cup down before addressing her late niece's husband. "The children told me that they needed to make out a list of things for you to get from the house -"
"Yes. They can't go back there it's still a murder scene, and I'm not sure they should go back at all -"
"What?" JJ said.
"Dad, you can't mean that," Rachel added. "It's our home."
"Your mother died there," Martha pointed out, causing the other adults to wince slightly. Martha had never been subtle about anything.
"But she loved that house," Henry insisted. "I know that we can't go home right now, but we *do* want to go home. Gramma can move in with us, can't you, Gramma?"
"Your grandmother has her own house," Martha replied, "- you could all move in here -"
"It's not big enough," Rachel said. "Dad slept on the sofa last night because JJ and Henry are in his room, I'm in the other one, and the third bedroom is Gramma's. In *our* house, we have enough rooms for each of us to have our own room, and there's an extra one for guests that Gramma could move into."
"We should be part of the decision, Dad," JJ added. "This doesn't just affect you -"
Johnny met the eyes of each of his children before nodding. "I know that. But I hadn't thought that far ahead yet -"
"It would seem that they've put some thought into this," Carl noted, giving Johnny a thoughtful look. "Actually, it might be harder on the kids to *not* go back there. They just lost their mom uprooting them could make it even more difficult."
"Yeah," Johnny agreed, recalling how upset he and Jimmy had been when they had almost moved from this house after his father's death. "We can discuss it later," he told the kids. "But I'd like to hear Aunt Martha's suggestion."
As attention returned to her, Martha took control. "Instead of your getting their things from the house, why don't I take them shopping for some suitable clothes for the funeral and to last until you make a decision about the house?"
He could see that the kids weren't entirely at ease with the idea. "Thank you for the offer, Aunt Martha, but I think the kids would prefer their own things." He saw their grateful smiles, quickly wiped away as Aunt Martha glanced at them.
"Is that true, children?" she asked.
Without giving them a chance to respond, Johnny said, "Why don't you go on and get your lists made and I'll go over there this evening to pick up what I can."
Rachel gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek. "Thanks, Daddy!" Almost as an afterthought, she turned to the others. "Excuse us, Aunt Martha, Gramma, Uncle Carl," she said, and then the three children escaped the room.
"I can't believe that they would turn down a chance to go shopping," Martha said. "Especially Rachel. At her age, you would think that she would have jumped at the chance."
"She's still not quite herself," Georgia pointed out. "Lana's death -"
Martha looked sad. "You're right, of course, Georgia." Her eyes filled with tears. "I suppose I forgot for a moment - It's so hard to believe that she's gone. Lana was always so full of the joy of life." She lifted the ever-present handkerchief to her eyes again. "I'm sorry. I suppose it's just all getting to me - Lana's death, the flight -"
"Aunt Martha doesn't like to fly," Carl reminded them.
"Would you like to lay down for awhile?" Georgia offered.
"Might I? I'd hate to put you out -"
"I need to start dinner anyway," Georgia said. "Come on and I'll see you settled before I do that."
Both Johnny and Carl rose to their feet as Martha and Georgia stood. Martha went to Johnny, giving him another hug. "I am sorry, Johnny."
"I know, Aunt Martha," he said, accepting her apology. "Is she okay?" he asked Carl once they were gone.
"She's getting worse. Her memory isn't what it used to be. I've been trying to convince her to take some tests, but she insists that she's fine." He picked up his coffee again. "You're not going to sell that house, are you?"
"You heard what I told the kids I haven't thought that far ahead. But the thought of them going back into that house To tell you the truth, I'm not sure that I can walk through the front door into the living room after what happened - After seeing her -" he sat forward, burying his face in his hands, his eyes closed. But the scene reappeared again - Lana laying there before him in a pool of blood, and he opened his eyes to banish it.
"Have you considered talking to someone, Johnny?" Carl asked. "A psychiatrist or -"
"I did. The department sent me to one this morning. I was supposed to have gone there yesterday, but I had other things that I thought were more important. She told me to come back next week for another session -"
"I think it's a good idea. And if you want some company when you go over to the house later, I'll volunteer."
"Thanks, Carl. I appreciate it."
When Andy arrived to get his car, he informed Johnny that he could take him to retrieve Johnny's car from where it had been parked outside of Hank's Bar since the previous afternoon. Carl decided to go with them.
Being divorced, Andy had usually joined Johnny, Lana, and their extended family for most holidays at Lana's insistence so he and Carl knew each other and got along almost as well as Johnny and Carl did. Andy told them that Johnny's suspension probably wasn't going to last long the media was already picking up on the truths behind Graves' death.
"I figure that once something else comes along to take their minds off of it, you'll be reinstated. I'm just glad that you were cleared of suspicion. I knew you would be, by the way."
"Glad you had confidence, buddy."
"Never doubted it," Andy insisted. "I told you: I envied what you and Lana had. And I knew that you could never have done something like that."
"Same here," Carl said.
Johnny smiled as Andy parked the car behind his sedan. "Here we are," he said. "Hank still has the keys," he said, nodding toward the bar. "You want me to go inside and get them?"
"No, I can do it," Johnny said, knowing that his partner was worried about his drinking. "I need to thank Hank anyway."
"Okay. From what I can tell, the coroner will probably release Lana's body sometime tomorrow I'm sure that George will call you."
"I have to call him anyway Carl and I need to get into the house to get some things for the kids."
"I'm sure he'll give the go ahead on that, too." He glanced at Carl. "He told me that you think Jimmy might have had something to do with what happened."
"I don't see how he could," Carl insisted. "I mean, if he were in the area, he would have contacted his mother."
"And she swears she hasn't seen him or heard from him in some time," Johnny finished. "We've missed someone. Maybe Lana *did* tell someone else about that money. "
"We'll figure it out," Andy promised. "Let me know if I can help."
"You already have," Johnny said, shaking his hand. "Thanks."
After Andy drove away, Johnny turned to look at the front door of Hank's Bar with its neon sign that flickered occasionally. His hands were in his pockets as he hesitated. "You sure you're up for this, Johnny?" Carl asked.
"Whatever you do, keep me from having a drink, okay?"
"No problem there." He reached out and opened the door.
Taking a deep breath, Johnny moved forward into the dim interior. Had it only been a little less than twenty-four hours since he'd been here, having so many drinks that he barely remembered getting home? Hank was behind the bar, and his smile at seeing Johnny faded almost immediately.
"Johnny. I heard about your wife. I'm sorry, man."
"Thanks. You still have my car keys?"
"Yeah." He took them from behind the counter and put them onto the bar. "Here you go. You want a drink?"
Johnny's eyes focused on the bottles of liquor behind bar, and he felt the sweat that broke out on his forehead. "Uh No," he finally managed to answer. Indicating his companion, he said, "This is my brother in law, Carl Markham. Carl, Hank."
"Nice to meet you," Hank said.
"I wanted to thank you for not letting me try to drive last night," Johnny said.
"Hey, you were pretty wasted. Last thing I needed was for one of my best customers to end up in an accident that I could have prevented. I'm just glad that cab driver found you and got you home."
"So am I." Henry took an order from one of the waitresses, and picked up a bottle of bourbon, pouring it into a glass as Johnny watched, fighting the urge to reach out and take the glass in his fingers. It would take the pain of losing Lana away. He could drown his pain so easily -
"Hey, Johnny, we need to get going," Carl said. "Your mom said that dinner would be ready before long. And the children are probably watching the driveway for you to get back."
Mentioning the kids brought Johnny back to his senses, and the urge began to recede. "Yeah." He picked up the keys, bypassing the glass that was still sitting on the bar nearby. "Thanks again, Hank."
"No problem. Nice to meet you, Mr. Markham."
Johnny took a long, deep breath as they exited the bar. "Thank you," he told Carl. "I didn't realize that it was going to be that hard to -"
"You know, there are support groups -"
"I know. I saw Charlotte this morning as I was leaving the psychiatrist's office, and she gave me a card for the group her dad goes to. I just hate the thought of going that route. I'll be okay," he insisted, moving toward his car and pressing the alarm button on the keychain, causing the lights to flash once. "Let's get going."
After dinner, Johnny called George Collins, asking him about going back to the house that evening to get some things for the children. George agreed that he might as well. "I was going to release the place tomorrow anyway. We did find several sets of prints on that soup bowl that the money was in. Do you know when the last time any of your family got into it?"
"Not off hand. Lana put the money in there a year ago. No one would have had reason to get into the tureen."
"I've already checked some of the prints. There's a partial of yours on the side, but not on the lid. I got Lana's print from the DMV - there was a thumbprint on it. The third print isn't in the system as far as I know right now. But we did find that missing towel in the trash can behind the house. It's in the lab right now."
"We also found a wooden baseball bat not far from the trash can. Looked like someone tried to wipe it clean."
Johnny froze. "A bat?"
"Yeah. Does that mean something?"
"JJ's a baseball player. Always kept his bat in the entry hall, in the umbrella stand."
"Then it would have been a weapon of opportunity," George confirmed. Johnny heard pages flipping. "There was no record of a bat in the entry hall by the crime scene folks. We're still waiting on DNA for any unknown blood type but it will take awhile. The coroner will be calling sometime tomorrow, I think, to give you clearance to have Lana's body picked up by a funeral home."
"Thank you. I talked to the children they all say that they haven't told anyone about that money."
"You believe them?
"Yeah. I do."
"What about your brother?" George asked, and Johnny sighed. "Johnny?"
"Why don't we discuss that tomorrow?" he suggested, aware that his mother was watching him as he spoke.
"Okay. See you tomorrow, then."
As Johnny turned his car into the driveway just before dark that evening, he saw Mrs. Hamilton standing in her rose garden. She straightened and looked in their direction, and Johnny waved. "Hello, Mrs. Hamilton." She didn't respond. "You remember Lana's brother, Carl Markham?"
The elderly woman pretended as if she hadn't heard him and turned away, picking up her gardening tools and heading toward the house.
"She still doesn't like you, does she?"
"No. She's one of the reasons why I was a suspect," Johnny told him, continuing to explain. "She told the detectives that she'd seen someone who *could* have been me entering the house earlier in the evening. Thing is, without her glasses and unless her hearing aid is turned up, she can't see or hear anything. So it could have been anyone walking up to the house."
"Lana told me that she also called the police the night you left the house."
Johnny nodded, leading him toward the front steps. "I wasn't happy when she told me that I had to make a decision and I guess I raised my voice a little. Mrs. Hamilton jumped on that the minute she heard it and called the police to report that a cop was yelling at his wife and was probably drunk and might hurt her or the kids. All they did was escort me to Mom's, since they knew I was barely able to stand up, much less hurt anyone." He paused at the front door. "We'll go in through the side door," he told Carl. "I'm not ready to face the living room just yet."
Using his key, he opened the door and stepped inside, pointing out the markers where the bloody shoe prints were located. "Whoever did it came out this way."
Carl looked thoughtful. "Which means that Mrs. Hamilton wouldn't have seen whoever came in earlier leave," he mused.
Johnny pointed out the still open china
cabinet door and the spot where the hand towel that had
been taken had been kept. "The tracks lead to the sink, where
he got the towel, to this cabinet," he said, "From the
living room. The killer came into the kitchen after he'd beaten
her unconscious, grabbed the towel, probably to wipe the blood
off his hands removed the money and returned the tureen to the
cabinet, closing the door as best he could before leaving the
house. They found the towel in the trash can beside the garage.
And the baseball bat close by." He stood there, looking toward
the living room door.
It was one of two out of the kitchen/dining room area. One door went into the living room, and the other led back into the entry hall. "Johnny?" Carl asked, a concerned look on his face.
"I just realized I'm not going to be able to fully avoid looking into that room if I'm going upstairs."
"I can go give me the list, and -"
"No," Johnny said, shaking his head. "I'll do it. If we're going to come back here, then I'll have to get past this, won't I?"
"Look, Johnny, if it's too much for you, I'm sure that the kids would eventually accept the idea -"
"No, you were right: they've already lost their mother losing their home would only cause more problems." He took a deep breath and turned toward the door into the entry, with Carl close behind him.
"Damn," Carl said as they came upon the broken vase scattered across the parquet floor. There were darker stains on the wood, Johnny noted, probably his blood when he'd cut his hands and knees on the shards of porcelain from the vase. "She must have put up one hell of a fight," the doctor said. "It's a wonder that Mrs. Hamilton didn't call the police from the looks of this."
"I know. Like I said, she probably had her hearing aid turned down for some reason. Who knows why that woman does anything?"
"But you'd think that after she called the police before, she'd have done it last night, too." He paused in the doorway of the living room as Johnny turned quickly and started upstairs.
Johnny could see how pale he became at the sight of his sister's blood staining the wooden floor. "Come on, Carl."
Carl slowly turned to follow him into JJ's room, where he dug out a sports bag and started stuffing things into it from the list in his hand. "How are you going to get that cleaned up? It's -"
"There's a company that specializes in crime scene recovery and cleaning that the department uses. I'll call them on Monday morning, have them come out and get started."
"Whoever could have done that is -"
"A monster," Johnny finished in a grim tone as he zipped the bag closed.
Carl had picked up one of JJ's sports trophies this one for basketball. "JJ's certainly a sports fanatic, isn't he?"
"Yeah," Johnny said. "I wasn't surprised when he got that scholarship to UCLA for the fall to play baseball."
"Lana was certainly proud of him for it. When I reminded her that he didn't *need* a scholarship, she told me that he could use the money after he finished college to support himself while he settled into whatever career he decided to pursue."
"He's still counting on being picked up by the pros," Johnny said, gathering a pair of dress slacks and nice shirt from the back of JJ's closet. "Neither of us have been able to pin him down on what happens if he *doesn't* go pro." Looking at JJ's list, he said, "Let's go get Rachel's stuff."
As they were coming back downstairs, Johnny risked a quick glance to his left and regretted it almost instantly. While the curtains had been drawn to keep the neighbors from seeing the scene inside, no doubt - he could still see the blood where Lana had been laying - and the smell of death still seemed to permeate the entire house.
Carl moved closer to the front door as the sun's evening light fell against the frosted glass pane and saturated the interior with an eerie light. "What's this?" he asked, causing Johnny to finally turn from the living room to look at what he had found.
Johnny handed him the bag he was carrying and moved to examine what looked like a small gold hoop type earring laying at the back of a table near the door. It was bent, and there looked to be some kind of skin attached - "Damn," Johnny said. "How the hell did they miss this?" he wondered aloud. "I need to borrow your cell, Carl."
"Sure," Carl said, extending it toward Johnny. "What is it?"
"Someone's earring. Lana didn't wear small hoops - she hated anything that dangled from her ears." Carl nodded to confirm his words while Johnny dialed George's number. "George, I know it's late, but. . . It's John McClain -. . . Carl found something here at the house that I think you and the lab need to see . . . Yeah, we're going to take some things back over to the kids, but we'll meet you back here."
"Let's get these things over to Mom's," he told Carl once he handed the phone back.
"You think it belonged to the killer, don't you?"
"It's possible. I'll ask Rachel if she has any like that, but I don't think she does."
Carl picked up the bags and they started out of the house via the front door this time. "If that skin is from the killer -"
"Then we have DNA and if he's in the database, we'll find him."
Johnny was torn with hope that this was the break they'd needed to identify the killer and the very real fear that it would lead them to someone very close to home.
On Monday morning, Johnny went to the morgue to sign Lana's body out. "Almost every bonein her arms and legs were broken," the coroner, Amy Ingles, told him. "There's some bruising around her neck - but there wasn't any damage. It was like her killer strangled her into unconciousness. It woudln't have lasted more then a few minutes. That being said, she put up a good fight. There's no evidence that she was sexually assaulted."
He nodded, looking at the sheet covered body on the table. "Yeah. They broke a vase in the entry way and she managed to pull an earring from his ear, then scratched him."
"We have the DNA," Amy confirmed. "It's just a matter of checking it against the database. I'm sure we'll find something."
"Not if he's not *in* the database," he pointed out. "Do you have the report back on his DNA?"
"Not yet. We're still waiting for tests on the dishtowel, too. Although so far, it's only been her blood." She held out the clipboard. "Sign here who's coming to pick her up?"
"Blackwell," he answered, naming a mortuary not far from where he lived. "They should be here before long -" he nodded. "Could I see her?"
Amy looked about to refuse. "I don't know, Johnny -"
"Just a second or two. I need to say goodbye."
She took a deep breath, then glanced toward the doors. "I need to make a call I'll be back in a minute."
Johnny waited until the heavy doors closed behind her, leaving him alone in the cold, clinical room, staring at the table on which his wife's body lay. Slowly, as though his feet were weighted, he moved forward until he could touch the sheet, his fingers shaking as they found the top edge. Carefully, he pulled the fabric up and away, revealing Lana's pale face. The bruising was still evident, especially around her neck, but Johnny barely noticed it as he lifted a hand to touch her cheek. "God, Lana, it's supposed to be me there, not you. I don't know how I'm going to go on without you, you were the one who kept everything sane. The one who knew how to handle the little things that I never had the time for," he whispered. "I'm so sorry that I wasn't there that night -" he felt a tear roll down his face. "I love you so much."
Hearing the door open behind him, Johnny quickly wiped the tears away and covered the body again before turning. "Thanks, Amy, I owe you," he said before walking out of the room.
He wasn't sure how he ended up at the bar it was one close to the morgue, one that he hadn't frequented much for just that reason: the fewer people in the department that knew he had a problem, the better. Now that word was out well, it didn't matter.
Moving to the counter, he sat down on a stool, his gaze locked on the bottles that lined the shelf under the obligatory mirror. A young woman appeared, asking what he wanted to drink.
"Bourbon," he answered, watching as she picked up a glass and a bottle. "Neat."
She poured the liquor into the glass with a practiced hand, and then placed the glass onto a napkin before him. "Three bucks."
Johnny reached around to take out his wallet, but as he did so, he froze, finally seeing something else in the mirror-- his reflection, as well as that of a short, gray haired man of almost sixty years. His face was weathered and worn, beaten down by years of dealing with criminals and his own demons. Without looking around, he said, "Hello, Charlie."
Charlie Graham moved forward to sit on the next stool over, ordering a glass of tonic water before taking a ten out and handing it to the young woman. "I'm paying for his, too."
"Were you following me?" Johnny asked.
"Charlotte told me that you were going to the morgue I went to see if I could offer some support, but you were already leaving when I got there. I saw you come in here." He nodded toward the glass that still sat untouched on the bar. "That's not the answer, Johnny-boy."
"Just one won't hurt -"
"It begins with one. And then another. I'm not going to stop you from drinking it, but I want to tell you something, for whatever its worth."
"And what's that?"
"I made that mistake after Clara was diagnosed with cancer. And after she died I crawled completely into that bottle. It cost me my job - and cost me ten years of time with my daughter."
"I was there, Charlie, remember?"
"True. But apparently you weren't paying attention. I've managed to recover the relationship with Charlotte, but I'd give anything for things to have been different. I missed so much of her life for ten years. Your kids need you the way that Charlotte needed me. Even more so, considering the way their mother died. At least Charlotte had time to get somewhat used to the idea. Your children didn't have that chance. Lana was ripped out of their lives the same way she was ripped out of yours." Charlie stopped and took a drink of his tonic water. "They're going to need their father to help them get through this. It's your decision. You can either drink that or choose to step away and take care of your family. You know how to reach me if you want to talk."
Johnny sat there for several minutes after his former mentor left the bar. The bartender returned, snagging Charlie's glass and wiping the bar down where it had been sitting, casting a curious look in Johnny's direction.
He ran a finger around the top of the glass, wanting to pick it up and down it in one gulp that's all. Just one drink. Then he'd go back to the kids He picked up the glass and happened to look into the mirror again. He knew that one wouldnt be enough to drown the pain and fill the emptiness. The only thing that would do that was to find out who had killed Lana, and to make things up to his children.
Very deliberately, he put the glass down and slid off the stool, walking out of the bar to find Charlie leaning against a parking meter. "Took you long enough," he commented.
"How do you know that I didn't drink it?"
"Because if you had you'd still be in there, having another." He clapped a hand on Johnny's back. "One day at a time, Johnny-boy. One day at a time."
The sun was covered by clouds on Tuesday afternoon as Dr. Lana Markham McClain was laid to rest in one of the plots that she had insisted she and Johnny buy not long after he'd been wounded. As he stood beside the flower-draped coffin, he couldn't help but notice that several of his coworkers were there, showing their support for him.
After the kids dropped flowers into the hole where the casket would be lowered, a line began to form as mourners went past the family, speaking of sympathy and sadness while giving words of encouragement. Toward the end of the line, Charlotte and Charlie Graham appeared. "Thanks for coming," Johnny said to them.
Charlotte, with her father in tow, paused in front of Rachel. "If you ever need to talk, you know how to get in touch with me," she told Rachel. "I know what it's like, being without your mom."
"Thanks," Rachel answered, her eyes filling with tears again. "I'll remember that."
When George and Maria brought up the end of the line, they moved Johnny away from the others for a chat. "The skin on that earring is a preliminary match to the tissue that was found under your wife's fingernails," Maria told Johnny. "She put up one hell of a fight, so whoever killed her didn't surprise her. And that person will have a few scratches on him together with a damaged ear lobe - we'll find him."
"Well, it doesn't belong to my daughter," Johnny told her, nodding toward where Rachel and the boys were standing near the graveside, talking to other guests. "The earring, I mean. She prefers larger hoops and studs."
Maria nodded. "I understand. My sister won't wear a hoop if you can't get four fingers inside it. I don't know how she keeps from catching them on things."
"We'll find who did it, Johnny," George said. "Have you heard from your brother yet?"
"No." He glanced over where his mother and Martha were sitting in some of the folding chairs. "George, if that DNA comes back as his -"
"It won't," Maria said. "He's not in the system."
"He wouldn't be," Johnny realized. "He was never convicted of anything, even though he got into trouble. Could you find out another way?"
"Dr. Ingles said that she might be able to use mitochondrial to match, but it wouldn't be exact -"
"Whatever she needs," Johnny told them as Andy joined them, followed quickly by Charlotte Graham.
"Are we having a precinct meeting?" she asked.
"Just discussing the newest information in the case, Ms. Graham," George explained.
"I don't really think that this is the proper place for it, do you, Lieutenant?" Charlotte questioned archly.
George frowned. "I guess you're right. Bye, Johnny."
"Call me -" Johnny began, and Maria nodded.
"As soon as we get something concrete," she assured him.
"I have to get back to the station, Johnny," Andy said. "Keep in touch."
"Always, buddy," Johnny replied. "Thanks for coming."
That left Johnny alone with Charlotte. "Charlie and I are going over to your mom's," she said, nodding toward the spot where her father and Georgia were talking with Carl and Martha. "She invited us over."
"Probably wants him as a buffer between her and Aunt Martha," Johnny muttered.
"Martha's not that bad, is she?" Charlotte asked.
"You haven't spent as much time around her as we have," he answered. "I mean, don't get me wrong. She loved Lana like a daughter but -"
"She sees everything through a money covered lens," Charlotte guessed. "I ran into that kind at college all the time," she told him. "It always amazed me that Lana *wasn't* like that. She grew up in that world, but -"
"Yeah. She was down to earth. I was always surprised that she fell for a poor guy from a middle class family whose only plan was to become a cop." He blinked away the tears that filled his eyes. "Sorry."
"Hey, you don't have to apologize. I know how much you loved Lana -"
Johnny thought she would have said more, but Henry appeared, drawing his attention. "Grandma and Aunt Martha are ready to go, Dad," he said in a somber voice.
"Okay, buddy," Johnny said, putting a hand on his son's shoulder. "See you at the house, Charlotte."
Back at Georgia's small house, Johnny found himself talking to Carl on the back patio. "I went by the house this morning," Johnny announced. "The cleaning crew was still there."
"How long before they're done?"
"The weekend, probably."
"You're still not sure about moving back there, aren't you?"
"I'm not sure that I can ever be able to just walk back into that house and not see -" Johnny's voice broke, and he shook his head before taking a drink of ginger ale from the glass in his hand. "But you're right about the kids. They've lost their mom they need to be in familiar surroundings."
"At least your mother's agreed to move into that downstairs bedroom to help out."
"I hate that she'll be giving this place up. I mean, she and my dad bought it when I was six." He indicated the large tree in the yard. "I broke my wrist falling out of that tree when I was eight."
"And Rachel broke her leg when she fell out of it when she was nine," Carl remembered, causing them to share a smile at the memory. "Maybe she could rent it out. Create an income for herself."
"We've discussed it," Johnny said with a nod.
"I might be willing to rent it."
"Lana's death has made me realize that I should have been here."
"What about the law firm?"
"I can open another office here we have clients in the area."
"What about Aunt Martha?"
"I think she'd be fine with being closer to the kids. Heck, I'll even buy it from your mom, if she'd prefer. Either way, it will eventually be the kids' one day."
"They're the beneficiaries of my will, too. I don't have any kids -"
"You could still get married have a family." Johnny caught sight of Charlotte and Rachel in the kitchen. "You and Charlotte -"
Carl shook his head. "She's beautiful and smart but I don't think she's interested in me. I'm almost old enough to be her father, if you think about it. I think two failed marriages were more than enough, thank you."
The glass door slid open, and Charlotte appeared. "I was wondering where you disappeared to," she said.
"Carl's talking about moving here," Johnny told her.
"Actually, my firm has a client here, Charlotte. It was a pro bono case one of the attorneys took up."
"Who is the client?" Charlotte asked.
Carl looked thoughtful. "Gerald Coburn. He was accused of killing his wife because he thought she was cheating on him."
"And was convicted of the crime," Charlotte remembered. "I remember the case. It wasn't mine," she told him quickly.
"I remember it, too," Johnny said. "I didn't do the investigation, but it seemed pretty cut and dried to me from what I recall. Coburn had no alibi for where he'd been during the murder."
"You think so?" Carl questioned.
"It's been awhile -" Johnny said after exchanging a look with Charlotte.
"Tell you what why don't you come with me tomorrow when I go to talk to him?" Carl suggested. "I could use your input on his story."
"Wouldn't ask if I wasn't."
"Okay. Not doing anything else, might as well tag along." He looked down at the empty glass in his hand. "I need a refill," he told them. "And to check on the kids."
As he entered the living room, he found himself the target of three pairs of eyes as his children were sitting while Aunt Martha was talking to them. "I do wish I lived closer to you dear children," she said. Lifting a lace edged handkerchief to her eye, she continued. "Especially now, with your mother gone. You're all I have left, really."
Johnny was about to join them when there was a knock at the door. "I'll get it, Dad," Rachel said, standing up quickly, determined to make her escape. "It's probably someone with more food."
Over the last few days, neighbors and friends had inundated the family with covered dishes and other food in an attempt to show their support and to make things easier for the grieving family. A moment later, Johnny looked toward the doorway as he heard his daughter's voice. "Capt. Carrington."
"May I come in, Rachel?"
"Of course. Let me tell Dad -"
But Johnny hadn't waited for them to come into the living room. He was in the doorway. "Captain."
"Hello, Johnny," she said, extending a casserole dish. "I thought I'd drop this by. I'm sorry that I couldn't make it to the funeral -"
"That's okay," Johnny said, handing the dish to Rachel. "Would you mind taking this into the kitchen, honey?"
"Sure." He saw her glance back toward them as she went toward the doorway.
"She looks more and more like Lana every time I see her," Carrington noted once the girl was out of earshot.
"So I've been hearing lately," Johnny agreed. "We're in here -" he indicated the living room doorway.
"Actually," Carrington said, hanging back, "I'd like to talk to you first, Johnny."
"Look, Captain, can't this wait? I mean, Lana was only buried a few hours ago -"
"You're right. Will you come to see me tomorrow, then? We need to talk."
"Yes, we do," Johnny agreed. "Come on in. Mom would like to see you."
Gerald Coburn was about Johnny's age, but as he walked into the prison visiting area, he looked years older. His blonde hair was close cut, and he looked haunted. There was a bruise under his left eye.
He shook hands with Carl. "I'm glad you've agreed to take my case, Mr. Markham," he said.
"Call me Carl, please." Gerald glanced at Johnny. "This is Johnny McClain," he said.
Coburn's eyes narrowed slightly. "You're a cop."
Johnny, hand extended, froze momentarily. "Is there a sign-?"
"Saw you on the news the other day in the day room," he explained. "Sorry about your wife."
"Sorry about yours."
"Yeah, well. At least you're with your kids. Mine are with my mother. I'm in here."
Johnny felt himself frown as Carl spoke again. "Why don't we discuss your case, Gerald?" Gerald sat down across the table from them. "Tell me what happened."
"I thought you talked to my mom."
"I did. But she wasn't there. I want to hear it from you," Carl countered.
"Margie my wife she was an accountant. Worked out of the house."
"Were you and she getting along?"
"Yeah," he said, then sighed. "We had some problems. Everyone does. I didn't like her spending so much time with clients, and we argued about it. She made a lot more money than I did as a handy man, but I wanted her to cut back on work. Selfish, yeah."
"The police were called out at least once, right?"
"Yeah. By neighbors because of the yelling. And once I I threw a lamp through a window while we were arguing. The kids weren't there. They were visiting my mom. I never argued with her in front of the kids. I knew what that kind of life was like. My folks always argued. Didn't want my kids to have to face that."
"What happened on the night she died?"
"We argued again. We were planning a getaway for the weekend. Just the two of us. First time a ages. I took the kids to my mom's, and when I got back, she said she couldn't go. That one of her clients had called, this guy was taking up a *lot* of Margie's time. Calling all hours."
"Do you know which client it was?"
"You're gonna say it's strange, but, I never knew who any of her clients were. She never mentioned names, and I never asked. I do remember that she mentioned a first name once on the phone, I think it was the guy who was always calling. Larry, she said, then quickly moved away to continue the conversation. Anyway, he had called, wanting to meet with her to make sure they were ready for an audit that was coming up. I left the house and drove up the coast."
"Did you go anywhere specific? A bar?"
"I don't drink."
"A convenience store? Gas station?" Johnny asked.
"The car was full when I left. I didn't need gas," Gerald told them. "I only talked to one person. There was an old lady on the beach when I was there. She was with her dogs and one of them ran up to me, wanting me to throw the stick he was carrying so he could retrieve it. I told them the dogs' names -"
"What were they?"
Gerald grimaced. "Sampson and Delilah."
"Did the police find the woman?"
Johnny wanted to know. "With a lead like that, it should
have been easy."
Gerald snorted in disgust. "They said they looked but couldn't find her. I don't think they ever tried. They made up their minds that I was guilty and that was it."
Johnny questioned him again. "Who were the investigating officers?"
"Delatorre and Cooper," was Gerald's response. "Let me guess: you know them both and are sure they did everything they could."
"I've heard of them," Johnny confessed. "They're veteran investigators."
"Good guys," Gerald added with a slight sneer on his thin face. "You got lucky, McClain," he said.
"You had friends on the force. They didn't know me from Adam."
"Look -" Johnny's reply was stopped by Carl's hand on his arm.
"Let's get back to what happened, shall we?" he suggested in a soft voice. "What happened after you returned from your drive up the coast, Gerald?"
"I got back to the house and when I went to the front door, it was open. Not a lot, but it was enough to make me nervous, you know? I called Margie's name, and there wasn't an answer. I went inside, and found her -" he paused, and Johnny knew that he was seeing that scene again. It was something that he could easily identify with. "She was laying on the living room floor. Her laptop - she used it for work. All of her client information was on it - it was on the floor nearby in pieces. I grabbed the phone and called the police -"
"Was she already dead?" Johnny asked quietly.
"Yes." He clenched his hands on the table before him. "I saw something on the floor nearby and reached down for it just as the police came into the room. It was a small statue that a client had given to Margie last Christmas."
"The murder weapon," Carl said, glancing at the papers on the table before him.
"None of the neighbors saw anyone else at the house?" Johnny questioned.
"No. For once, they were minding their own business. No one saw the killer arrive and leave, or my return. The police saw a man they'd arrested before standing over his dead wife with the murder weapon and just decided I was guilty. I was arrested that night and haven't seen my kids since then."
"They haven't come to see you?"
"Would you want your kids to visit you *here*, McClain?" Gerald replied. "I told Mom not to bring them."
"What happened to your face?" Carl wanted to know.
Gerald lifted a hand to his bruised cheek. "Official story? I ran into a door."
"Your mother mentioned new evidence," Carl noted, obviously deciding not to pursue the real reason for the man's injury.
"Margie she kept her client files on separate thumb drives," he explained, getting Johnny's full attention again. "When she worked on a file, she would plug that drive into her laptop. When the police returned what was left of the laptop to mom and the kids after the trial, there was no flash drive in it. And there wasn't one in any of the evidence collected at the scene that night."
"So you think that whoever killed her took the flash drive for some reason," Carl suggested.
"What about phone records?" Johnny wanted to know. "If her clients called the house -"
"They always called her cell phone. That was missing, too." Gerald shook his head. "If I'd had a chance to look at the scene, I'd have seen it then. But I haven't been back to that house or seen that laptop since that night."
"You never got out on bail?" Johnny asked.
"No. My mom offered to put her house up for it, but I didn't want that." He sighed again. "Look, I know I was convicted of killing my wife, but I loved her. Yeah, we had problems. Yeah, we argued. But we loved each other and right now, the only thing that keeps me going is the hope that someone out there can help me get out of here and take care of my kids."
"What about your defense attorney at the trial?" Johnny wanted to know.
"Public defender," Gerald answered. "Too many cases, not enough time or resources to do a full investigation."
"She used to work for my office," Carl told them. "She's the one who asked us to look into Gerald's case."
"Can you help me?" Gerald wanted to know.
"We'll do our best," Carl assured him. "Now, I have a few more questions before we go. . ."
As they left the prison, Johnny said, "You knew about the similarities in the case when you asked me to come with you, didn't you?"
His brother in law grinned. "I did. That's why I asked."
"He was right," Johnny mused. "The only reason I'm not in jail for murder right now is because I'm a cop. If I'd been arrested and kept from the scene the way a civilian the way Gerald Coburn was - the missing money and the earring might not have been found in time to keep me from being tried and convicted of Lana's murder."
"You're right," Carl agreed. He paused a beat before continuing. "So. I could use an investigator to help me on this. Someone with - connections to the department. . ."
"You're still on admin leave -"
"I'm supposed to meet with Capt. Carrington this afternoon. I have a feeling that's what we're going to discuss."
"You think she'll ask you to come back?"
"Probably. From what Charlotte said last night, Graves' family has dropped their threatened lawsuit for wrongful death. Apparently a look at the evidence caused them to realize what a scumbag he was. Between that and my being cleared of Lana's murder -"
"Are you going to go back?"
"I don't know. Right now, I need to spend time with the kids. They need me right now. And I need them."
"So take some time. And spend part of it helping me prove that Gerald Coburn didn't kill his wife and help reunite him with *his* children."
"Okay. I'll do it. I'll stop by and talk to Delatorre and Cooper when I'm at the station this afternoon."
Carl nodded, nodding toward his briefcase. "I have the case file from his public defender. It contains most of what they'll probably tell you. "
"Still want to hear it from them," Johnny said. "I'll look at it before I go. But first, I want to stop by the house."
"To see how much the cleaning crew has done, first. And second, I want to check out Lana's flash drives."
"The ones she kept her patient files on?" He smiled. "Something Gerald Coburn said got you thinking, didn't it?"
"Yeah. I know that the police looked at them and her laptop, but if there's one missing, they wouldn't have known about it."
"And you would?"
"I think so."
They went in through the side door again and then across the dining room and kitchen to the small room beside the laundry room that Lana used as her office. "The police still have the laptop and I know they looked around," Johnny was saying as he examined a box containing neatly arranged thumb drives. "Every case that Lana ever worked on is in here," he told Carl. "All arranged by date," he continued, silently counting the drives. Getting to the end of the drives, he paused, and then started again.
"Something wrong?" Carl asked.
"There's one missing."
"Maybe it was in the computer?" Carl suggested.
"If it was, then it was because she was looking at the file for some reason."
"Which file was it?"
"Her first case," Johnny announced. "William Arthur Braden."
"Why would she be looking at *that* file?" Carl wondered aloud, frowning. "Isn't Braden in some kind of juvenile facility?"
"Yeah. Smithson. They put him there after the court agreed with Lana's report that he was mentally unbalanced when he killed that little boy and recommended that he be under psychiatric care."
"Hard to believe that it's been almost ten years since Lana finished her doctorate and took that case," Carl said after a long sigh.
"Eight years," Jimmy corrected automatically. "Since the Braden case, anyway. Why would she have been looking at the file?"
"You said that the laptop was -?" Carl asked.
"Still at the department. I'll have to talk to George and Maria this afternoon. See if the drive was in the laptop when they took it."
They started back through the kitchen, and Carl paused. "I thought you wanted to see how much the cleaners have done?" he asked.
Johnny hesitated, then took a deep breath before leading the other man out into the entry hall. The room *looked* pristine as if there had never been a struggle between a frightened woman and someone determined to take her life. No glass on the floor mixed with blood - the only things missing were the crystal vase that had long sat on the table against the wall and the baseball bat that was usually in the antique umbrella stand next to that same table.
"They did a good job," Carl observed, moving closer to the living room doorway.
Johnny closed his eyes, and then opened them quickly, hoping that he would no longer see the blood and glass that he wouldn't see Lana's bloody, bruised body laying just inside of the living room doorway as he slowly moved to join Carl there.
As in the entry, there was no visible sign of the horror of the night. No stain on the hardwood floor, the walls were clean the furniture had been repaired or replaced.
But Johnny still saw her lying there, gasping for breath. He could still smell the sharp, metallic scent of blood.
A hand on his shoulder brought him back to the present, and he turned to see Carl giving him a look of concern. "Johnny? You okay?"
"I I don't know if I -"
"You want me to talk to the kids? Convince them that it's not fair for them to expect you to come back here after -"
"No. I'll be okay." Right now, what he wanted most was a drink. But he kept that to himself as he continued. "A few months, and I'll probably be able to stand here and not remember."
"You don't believe that anymore than I do, Johnny. But if you change your mind, let me know. "
Johnny entered the station and went directly to the squad room. He was grateful that it was around lunch time, which meant most of the detectives were out. He went directly to Capt. Carrington's office, hesitating when he saw her sack lunch spread out on the desk in front of her.
But she glanced up and saw him standing in the doorway and smiled. "Johnny. Come in."
"I dont want to interrupt your lunch -"
"No, it's okay. Please. Sit down," she insisted, indicating the chair in front of her desk. "How are you doing? Scratch that. Stupid question." She offered him part of her sandwich, but he shook his head, turning it down. "Guess you've heard that Anthony Graves' girlfriend has decided not to sue after all. Seems that once Marie Adams told everyone what that creep had done to her and what she'd seen in the warehouse, she had no choice but to admit he was a child molester." She smiled again, reaching into her desk. "So, I think these -" she slid a badge and service weapon which he had turned in after retrieving his car - across the desk toward him, "are yours."
Johnny hesitated. "Captain -"
"Something wrong, Johnny?" she asked. "IAD's cleared you of any wrong doing. You're no longer a suspect in Lana's death -"
"Captain, my life right is a train wreck. Lana's dead. My kids need me around right now."
"So take some time. You have lots on the books. Hell, I can't remember the last time you took more than a day or two of personal time. Get your life straightened out, and then come back. The job'll be here."
Johnny reached out and retrieved the badge and gun. They might come in handy if he were going to help clear Gerald Coburn. "I'll be in touch," he promised.
He found Maria in the break room, taking her lunch out of the microwave. "Hi, Johnny," she said, giving him a smile. "You coming back to work?"
"Not right away," he told her. "Maria, do you remember if there was a flash drive in Lana's computer when you and George took it from the house?"
"No there wasn't one that I remember. Why?"
"She kept her case files on flash drives. She should have had twenty drives. One is missing."
"The first case she handled on her own. Does the name William Arthur Braden mean anything?"
Maria looked thoughtful. "Not really."
Maria had come to the LAPD from back east, Johnny recalled. "George will remember."
Detectives Delatorre and Cooper were out on a call, so Johnny left them a message to give him a call when they had the time, then headed out of the station, only to see Charlotte as she was returning from lunch.
"Hey," she said. "Did you talk to Capt. Carrington?"
"Yeah." He pulled out the badge. "Seems everything's fine again."
He felt her eyes searching his face. "But you're not coming back yet, are you?"
"Not yet. I need to get the kids settled," he explained. "They need me close by for awhile."
"I understand. I used to wish that Charlie had taken some time off after my mom died. I was always grateful that I had you and Lana during that time."
As someone neared the doorway, Johnny pulled Lana toward the corridor. "When you and Lana had lunch the day she died, did she mention anything about any of her cases?"
"She wasn't handling anything involving the DA's office," Charlotte told him. "She did ask me to check on former patient -"
"Which one?" he asked, becoming tense.
"Uh William -"
"Yes, that was it. I didn't get a chance to do it. When I got back from lunch, I was late for court, and then all of that mess happened -"
"Can you do it for me?"
"Sure. I'll make some calls when I get back to my office. Why? Do you think there's some connection?"
"Braden was Lana's first case with the police," he said. "The only one of her files that seems to be missing is his, and it wasn't in her computer."
"Do you want to come back to the office and wait?"
"No, I have promised the kids to take them for some ice cream after Carl and I finished up."
"You went with him to see Gerald Coburn, didn't you?"
"I did," he confirmed. "And I agreed to do whatever I could to help him." His gaze moved across the street for a moment. "Coburn thinks that the only reason I wasn't arrested and held for Lana's death is that I'm a cop."
"He's probably right," Charlotte confirmed. "A civilian would never have been allowed to reenter the crime scene and find evidence to clear himself. Coburn didn't have the money for a high power crime attorney or a private detective."
"You said that it wasn't your case -" he reminded her.
"No. But I looked over it this morning while I was looking at something for another case."
"Don't guess that you could get me a copy of that file," Johnny suggested with a sly grin. "For old time's sake?"
"I would, but everything that's in it is probably what Carl has from Coburn's public defender. For what it's worth, she's a good attorney, but she's totally overwhelmed right now."
"Too many clients, not enough time," Johnny nodded. "I know. I have to go. Give me call when you find out anything about Braden, okay?"
"At your mom's?"
"No. I stopped by and got my cell replaced the other day," he explained, taking the phone out and showing it to her. "Same number. Call me."
"First thing when I get back up to the office," she assured him.
Watching his children enjoying their ice cream, Johnny saw that they were slowly coming back to normal whatever normal was going to be from here on out, at least. Rachel teased JJ about how many more sprinkles the young lady behind the counter had given him, while Henry sat there, trying to pretend he didn't know either of them, especially when JJ tossed a napkin in their sister's direction. She ducked, and the napkin ended up hitting Johnny in the arm.
They all started giggling except for Henry, who shrank down even more in his chair. "Com'on, guys," he muttered. "Everyone's watching."
Johnny, having surreptitiously retrieved the napkin, said, "He's right. We need to behave. After this," he finished, tossing the napkin at Henry, hitting the youngster on the nose. Rachel and JJ both went quiet, only to start laughing again as Henry grinned and tossed the napkin back across the table.
As they got back to the house, Johnny's cell phone started ringing. Glancing at the display, he saw that it was George, and answered. "Hello?"
Carl was talking to Georgia when he entered the living room, and they both looked up at him. Georgia smiled. "There you are. Supper is almost ready. I was keeping it warm until you got home," she said, a hint of reproach in her tone.
"Sorry. I was doing some research on the case," he said, hoping she'd think he meant Gerald Coburn's case.
"Let me get things finished up while Rachel sets the table," Georgia told them both, leaving the room.
Carl's eyes were narrowed slightly, and he took a deep breath. "What's going on?"
Johnny spoke softly as he looked behind Carl toward the dining room and kitchen beyond, and he told Carl about Jimmy and his suspicions about Braden.
Carl looked shocked. "I won't say anything about your letting the police talk to him without an attorney, but I will ask if you're going to tell your mother?"
"I don't know. Just the fact that he was involved at all in what happened is going to hurt her. But if I don't tell her -"
"Yeah," Carl agreed. "I don't
understand how Braden could have tied Jimmy to Lana in the first
place, though. Doesn't make sense."
"It's possible," a small voice answered, causing both men to turn toward the hallway door, where Henry stood, looking nervous. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop," he apologized. "I was just passing the door -" He looked up at his dad. "You found Uncle Jimmy?"
Johnny nodded. "But we're not telling Gramma yet, OK?"
Henry looked confused, but nodded. "OK."
"What did you mean that it was possible," Henry?" Carl asked.
"I can show you easier than tell you," he answered, moving toward the hallway and then into room he was sharing with JJ. Johnny had grabbed the boy's laptop from the house, knowing how important it was to him. Now, Henry sat down and started typing. "All I have to do is type Mom's name into the computer," he said. Johnny saw that most of the results were new items about Lana's death, but Henry didn't even glance at them. "And then Dad's name." He hit 'enter' again, and the same articles came up, along with a couple of articles about the incident the day of Lana's death. "And then James Henry McClain," Henry said, typing again. He highlighted one and clicked on it.
"What the-?" Johnny said, reading the article. "That's the story that lady reporter did about me a year ago," he told Carl. "About kids of cops who became cops. But she didn't mention Jimmy in that article. She wanted to, but I told her that it would only hurt my mom, so she dropped it."
"From the article, yeah," Henry said. "But not from her blog." He clicked another link on the page under the journalist's name, and another page came up. "I do a site search, and-" he hit 'enter' again, and the page had Jimmy's name highlighted by the computer.
Johnny read through the blog post quickly. "She was curious about why I didn't want to draw attention to my homeless, addicted brother, so she set out to find him."
"Did she?" Carl asked.
"She did," Johnny confirmed, his lips thinning. "She says that he hangs out in the old warehouse district and there's a photo of him." He pulled the photo up. It looked pretty much the way Jimmy had looked in that hospital bed.
"So basically she led Braden right to him. And from him to Lana." Johnny didn't have time to consider the journalist's culpability in Lana's death as Henry spoke.
"Who's Braden?" he asked.
"Johnny? Carl? Supper's ready. Is Henry with you?"
"We're on our way, Mom," Johnny replied, going to one knee beside his youngest son. "Henry,-"
"Don't worry, Dad. I can keep a secret."
"I don't like asking you to -"
"It's OK." He gave Johnny a hug and then left the room.
"That's some kid," Carl noted. "I do think you need to tell Georgia about Jimmy," he said. "We'll discuss it after supper."
"Did you have a good day?" Martha asked Johnny as the family ate.
"Productive," Johnny clarified. "Carl and I started working on that case today."
"Do you think you can help that poor man?" she wanted to know. "From what I've heard about it from Carl, I think he was wrongly convicted."
"It's possible," Johnny confirmed.
JJ spoke up. "Pass the salt, Henry." Henry seemed not to have heard his brother, as he dug his fork into the mashed potatoes on his plate. "Hey, Short Stop," JJ said, using his nickname for Henry, "Can I have the salt?"
"Henry," Johnny said in a firm tone, finally getting the boy's attention. "JJ wants the salt."
Henry passed it over to JJ. "Are you OK, Henry?" Georgia asked, looking from the boy to Carl and then to Johnny. "Is something going on?"
"I told Henry that we're going to be moving back into the house this weekend."
"Are you sure, Dad?" Rachel questioned.
"You guys just need to convince Gramma to come with us," he added, aware that his mother wasn't sure about giving up her house and moving around the corner.
"You will, won't you, Gramma?" Henry asked, knowing that she had never been able to say no to him.
"We need you," Rachel insisted.
"Without you, we'll have to put up with Dad's cooking," JJ said.
"Hey!" Johnny protested, "I'm not that bad."
"Dad," Rachel pointed out, "You burned ramen noodles!"
Everyone laughed at that memory even though there had been a legitimate reason for it happening. Georgia smiled. "I've already made up my mind," she began, pausing for effect, Johnny was sure. "I'll move over there. Your Uncle Carl and Aunt Martha will be staying here in this house."
"You're moving here?" Henry asked.
"Yes, dear, we are," Martha confirmed with a huge smile. "At last I'll be able to spend more time with all of you." There were glances between all three children that Martha, thankfully, was totally oblivious to. "I should have insisted on it years ago, honestly." She brought her hands together. "We're going to have so much fun!"
Johnny was outside on the patio later when Carl came out of the house. "Good save, earlier."
"It was the only thing I could think of," he said with a grim smile. "I called the hospital a few minutes ago. Jimmy's doing better. Not sure how long I can keep what happened to Lana from him."
"I don't understand something. How did someone who's been in a mental facility for the last eight years know enough about computers to find out about Jimmy and his connection to Lana? Do they just let those kids at Smithson access computers without supervision?"
"I don't know. That's why I want to talk to the people up there. Especially that doctor who was handling Braden's case. I remember Lana worrying that he wasn't taking her diagnosis seriously, but she stopped talking about it, so it slipped my mind."
"Did she password protect her case files?"
"I'm sure she did," Johnny told him. "I'm sure that Henry would know, but I don't really want to involve him any further than we have."
"You know what? I don't think he would mind."
Johnny smiled and shook his head. "There's a reason he's in advanced classes," he said. "But he needs to be a little boy before he has to worry about adult problems. Lana always tried to make sure he was enjoying himself and not taking himself too seriously."
"Are you still determined not to tell Georgia about Jimmy?"
"I don't know."
"You're trying to protect Henry. I get that. He's still a little boy. You can't protect Jimmy and your mom, Johnny. They're adults. They need to be able to make their own decisions." He put a hand on Johnny's arm. "Aunt Martha and I are going to the hotel. See you in the morning. And before you let the police talk to your brother again, call me, OK?"
Johnny went inside and tucked the kids into bed, something he'd been doing every night, even though the older two insisted it wasn't necessary. But he could tell they appreciated the emotion behind the effort. Once that was done, he joined his mother in the living room, where she was locking the front door. "Are you sure about moving back over there, honey?" she asked. "I know you have problems with -"
He put his arm around her shoulders. "I'll be fine, Mom," he reassured her. "Right now, I need to tell you something. Why don't we go out back for a minute?"
Georgia looked worried and uncertain as she led the way to the back door and onto the patio. "What's wrong, Johnny?"
Indicating the patio sofa, he suggested, "Let's sit down."
"You're worrying me, Johnny," Georgia said. "What's going on?"
Johnny turned toward her, taking her hands in his. "It's about Jimmy."
He saw the look of fear. "J-Jimmy? What about him?"
"He's in the hospital He's OK," he said quickly, forestalling her next question. "Or, he will be. I called a little while ago, and the nurse told me that he was resting comfortably."
"What happened to him?"
"He was found in a deserted warehouse where he'd been squatting for awhile. He had overdosed on what appeared to be cocaine, but it was cut with something that made him pretty sick. An anonymous phone call sent an ambulance to pick him up."
"But he's going to be OK, you said."
"As far as I know."
"How long have you known about this?"
"I got the call this afternoon. But he was picked up the day after Lana was killed, Mom."
The fear was back. "You're not going to tell me that he killed Lana -"
"No," Jimmy assured her. He saw her sigh of relief, and realized that she hadn't been quite as sure as she had said she was about her younger son's involvement. "But he was there that night." He quickly told her about Jimmy's friend Billy, about how he had tricked Jimmy into showing him where Lana lived, and into stealing the money she kept in the house. "Jimmy doesn't know that Lana is dead," he told her.
"I need to see him," she told him.
"I'll take you over tomorrow morning," he promised. "I need to talk to him again anyway." He leaned forward to give her a quick peck on the cheek. "Com'on. We'd better get some rest."
"Johnny, do you think that William Braden might come back to hurt Jimmy?"
"I don't think so. But George is keeping someone on watch just in case. Now come on. It's getting late."
He walked her to her bedroom door, where she turned and looked up at him. Very softly, she said, "You're a good son, Johnny."
Johnny returned to the living room, intending to get some sleep, but as he'd done almost every night since Lana's death he knew that sleep was going to be elusive. So he picked up Gerald Coburn's file that Carl had left for him to go over and started to read through it, hoping that it would keep his mind off of other things .
Carl met them at the hospital the next morning, and went into the room to talk to Jimmy while Georgia agreed to wait outside. "Might as well hear his story before the police do," Carl had pointed out when he'd called Johnny earlier.
Jimmy was still a little groggy, but he sat up when he saw Johnny, looking warily at Carl. "Hi," he muttered. "You're Lana's brother, right?"
"That's right," Johnny confirmed. "You're going to need a lawyer, Jimmy, and Carl's offered to help."
"Even though I stole that money?" He looked through the glass window to the corridor. "Is that Mom? Is Lana with her?"
"Yes, it's Mom. No, Lana's not here."
"Can you remember what happened, Jimmy?" Carl asked.
Jimmy fell back onto the bed, closing his eyes. "It was all Billy's idea. He said that he could get us some primo coke. But it would cost. He came up with this idea of my going to see if Lana would give me some money. I told him she wouldn't give me money for drugs, so he suggested that I tell her I owed some money to some bad guys and that if I didn't pay it back, they would kill me."
"How did Billy know about Lana?" Johnny wanted to know.
"He said he'd heard from someone about my cop brother, wanted to know if you were likely to be willing to help me. I told that we weren't close, but that Lana liked me enough to try if she thought I was in real trouble."
"And how did he know that she would have cash on hand?"
Jimmy sighed heavily. "I told him about it," he confessed, the looked at Johnny. "I was needing a fix real bad, Johnny. I know I shouldn't have, but he said we could get some good stuff-"
"It's OK, Jimmy," Johnny said, touching his arm. "What was the plan?"
"I would go to see Lana when she was alone we watched the house from the corner for an hour or so. We saw the kids all leave, and there was no sign of your car. So I went to the door and knocked, and Lana she was so happy to see me," he recalled, a tear rolling down his face. "Gave me a huge hug and pulled me into the house. I told her about the loan shark, that I really needed at least five hundred to pay him. She gave me the money from her purse. It was only fifty. She said she could call you, and if I told you about the loan shark, you'd take care of him. I didn't want to involve you. I told her that."
"What was Lana doing when you got there?" Carl wanted to know.
"I don't know. Her laptop was on the sofa. I remember that she closed it and set it on the coffee table." He looked from Johnny to Carl. "Why?"
"Just curious," Johnny said. "What happened next?"
"Gave Billy the signal. I went to the front door like I was gonna leave, and even opened it, saying that I didn't want to see you. That I'd take my chances with the loan shark. Lana stopped me from leaving, closed the door. I asked for a drink of water, and about then the doorbell rang. I told Lana that I'd get the water while she answered the door. I went through, and instead of water, I opened cabinet, got the money from the bowl, and then left, the way Billy had told me to."
"Jimmy, when you got the money, did you leave the cabinet open slightly and the lid crooked on the soup tureen?"
"No way, man. I didn't want anyone to know I'd taken that money. I knew someone would notice if anything was out of place. I made sure it was just the way it was."
"Did you hear Lana and Billy talking at all?"
"All I heard was Lana saying hello when she opened the door, and Billy saying he was looking for someone. I got out of there before she could close the door and come into the kitchen. I left through the side door. Billy met me a minute later on the far side of the garage. I gave him the money, and he told me to go back to the warehouse, that he'd meet me there after he got the stuff."
"So Billy didn't go back with you?" Carl asked, glancing at Johnny.
"How long was it before he showed up?" Carl continued.
"Seemed like forever," Jimmy sighed. "Probably a couple of hours."
"Was there anything different about him when he got there?"
"Different? Oh, you mean his ear? He said he caught one of his earrings on something and yanked it off. And he had a scratch on his face, said that happened at the same time. I didn't really care. All I wanted was the coke."
"Did Billy use any of it?"
"No. Said he had some stuff to do before he 'indulged' Billy was always saying stuff like that."
"How long had you known him?"
"Just a few days. But he was cool. Even if he told me that I should contact you. There was something wrong with the coke. It made me really sick. Started puking my guts out, couldn't stand up." He ran a hand over his abdomen. "Still hurts a little. Especially when I cough." He coughed and winced from the pain of over-used muscles. "Ouch. Johnny, tell Lana that I'll pay her back. Somehow. I just -"
Johnny took a deep breath. "Jimmy, I need to tell you something. About Lana." He looked at Carl before continuing. "Your friend, Billy his name is William Arthur Braden. He was Lana's first client through the police department after she got her doctorate."
"Braden," Jimmy repeated. "What'd he do? He would've been a kid back then."
"He was 10, and he deliberately killed another little boy by slowly torturing him to death."
Jimmy shuddered at the thought. "Wow. And Lana was his psychiatrist?"
"Yes. They sent him to a mental facility because she diagnosed him as a sociopath, among other things. Apparently he was released when he turned 18, and started looking for the people that he holds responsible for his being locked up."
Jimmy's eyes widened. "Lana?" Something clicked in his mind, because his hand reached out and grabbed Johnny's arm. "Is she OK? Did he hurt her? Oh my God, I led him to her, didn't I? All because I needed a fix! Please tell me she's OK, Johnny!"
One of the nurses entered the room, since the monitors were showing that the patient was heavily agitated, but Jimmy refused to let go of Johnny's arm. "Jimmy, calm down, please," Johnny said, looking to where their mother was standing just inside the door now. "Mom?"
She came over to the bed and sat on the edge, pulling her younger son to her arms. "It's OK, Jimmy," she murmured. "It's okay."
"Mom, I'm sorry. It's all m-my fault. Lana -" He raised red, tear filled eyes to Johnny. "I'm so sorry, Johnny."
Half an hour later, Johnny and Carl left a calmer Jimmy with his mother holding his hand. The doctor had showed up, and refused to give him any drugs to calm him down, due to his status as an addict. Luckily, Georgia's presence seemed to do what drugs would have.
As they stood outside the room, Carl said, "If I had any doubts about whether or not he knew what Braden had planned, that would have convinced me he had no idea."
"Jimmy's only focus was getting a fix. And that required money. As far a I know, he's never hurt anyone physically to get that. Just himself."
"Find him a good facility, and whatever it costs-"
"He's not your problem, Carl."
"Lana liked him. Consider it part of her legacy."
"Braden has to be one ice-cold sob," Carl muttered. "The bruises on Lana's neck make sense now. He choked her into unconsciousness, went out to meet Jimmy, then went back and tortured and killed her."
"Sounds like the sociopath budded into full blown crazy," Johnny agreed grimly.
"At least your mom's here for Jimmy. Now, are you ready to go talk to Gerald Coburn's mother?"
"Do you really need me for that? I'd rather go track down Delatorre and Cooper and see what they can tell me about the case."
"OK. I think I can handle Mrs. Coburn on my own."
As Johnny entered the station, he heard a familiar voice. "Hey, partner!"
Turning, Johnny smiled as Andy joined him. "Hi," he said.
"Please tell me you're here to tell the Captain that you're ready to come back."
"Sorry, Andy. I still need some time to figure things out."
"Aw man, Johnny, that's not what I wanted to hear! Do you know who she paired me with as a temporary partner?"
Before Johnny could answer, a young man came down the corridor, and seemed to home in on where Johnny and Andy were standing. "Lt. Devlin, we got a call about that case," he said, glancing at Johnny as if trying to place him.
"This is Detective Johnny McClain," Andy told the man. "Johnny, Luke Blankenship."
"Lucas," Blankenship corrected, extending his hand. "Nice to meet you, sir," he said. "Sorry about your wife."
"Thanks," Johnny replied.
"Look, Lucas," Andy said. "I'll meet you at the car."
"Yes, sir," Lucas agreed, nodding in Johnny's direction before leaving them to head for the doors.
"See what I mean, Johnny? I mean he's barely dry behind the ears!"
"What is he? Twenty?"
"Thirty," Andy confirmed. "Straight out of narcotics, and moving up the ladder fast. Capt. Carrington said that she thought he'd be a good fit."
"You're good, Andy. Nothing wrong with mentoring younger cops."
"I'm a cop, not a teacher."
"You're both and you know it. You can handle it."
Andy looked at him. "You're not coming back, are you?"
"I haven't decided," Johnny said, knowing that he owed it to Andy to be honest. "Do you know if Delatorre and Cooper are here?"
"I think so." Andy shook his head. "Guess I'd better go before the eager beaver decides to take off without me and save the city on his own."
"Be careful out there, OK?"
Tony Delatorre and Wade Cooper were nearly interchangeable, physically. Both were around 5'5", thinning sandy hair, blue eyed. But while Delatorre was usually sullen and humorless, Cooper was a jokester, always laughing about something. Johnny hadn't worked with them much on cases. Johnny's area had been special crimes. Delatorre and Cooper were with homicide.
When he approached, Tony frowned. "McClain. I heard you were looking for us."
"Yeah," Wade said. "What's up?"
"Need to pick your brains about a case you two caught."
Tony went still, his eyes narrowing with suspicion. "Which case?"
"It's a closed case," Tony reminded him. "Coburn's in prison."
"I heard that he'd found a lawyer to appeal," Wade told his partner. "I guess that's you, Johnny?"
"Not sure what you expect to find," Tony told him.
"Just curious about a couple of things. The woman that Coburn says he talked to on the beach the night his wife died you did look for her?"
"No, we just dismissed his claim of an alibi out of hand," Tony snorted.
Wade shook his head. "I don't think that's what he means, Tony. We had uniforms do a door by door search of the area. He said she walked onto the beach, he never heard a car, so she lived close. And those two dogs wouldn't have been easy to hide."
"They were black Labrador retrievers, right?"
"So he said," Tony confirmed. "No one in the area remembered seeing them. No sign of the short woman with braided gray hair who was with them on the beach."
"So you don't think she existed at all, then?" Johnny suggested.
"Coburn made her up in a feeble attempt to get out of having murdered his wife." Tony's statement closed the discussion.
"OK. Thanks for the input," Johnny said, nodding. "See you around."
Near the elevator, he waited for the doors to open. Just as they did, Wade called out.
Johnny let the elevator go, and turned to wait for him. "Yeah?"
"Sorry about Tony, man. I just wanted to tell you that I hope you find that lady. We didn't have the man power to search for several days the way I wanted to. I don't know if Coburn did it or not - the way he talked about his wife, I'm not convinced that he did. And that story about the woman and dogs was pretty detailed to just be a lie he made up."
"Thanks, Wade," Johnny said as the elevator doors opened again. "I'll do what I can."
He was just about to step into the elevator when he heard another voice. "Johnny!"
Johnny turned to see George. "Hi, George. What's up?"
"Maria just called and told me that she had the video footage from the emergency phone that was used to report your brother's illness. You want to see it?"
"Of course I do. I always said those phones were a waste of city money," Johnny mused as they walked down the hallway.
"You and a lot of other people," George agreed. "But they have saved a few lives."
"Including Jimmy's," Johnny had to admit. A few years ago, the city had installed telephone call boxes in areas of town frequented by gangs and drug users. They were a direct line to emergency services, so that if someone was in trouble, they could easily call for help.
What most people didn't know, however, was that all of the phones were tied into a video system that activated when the box was opened.
Maria looked put out when she saw who was with George. "Surprised to see you here, Johnny," she said. "Rumor has it that you've decided not to come back."
"I had to talk to someone," he told her.
"Let's see the video," George told his partner, indicating that Johnny should stand beside him to watch.
Maria pressed a button. "Note the time/date stamp," she said, pointing to the corner of the screen.
"Three am the day after Lana was killed," Johnny said, his eyes moving to the center of the screen, where a man was standing with the telephone receiver in his hand. "Do you have the audio of the call?"
Maria pressed another button.
"Yes, I need to report someone who's overdosed on cocaine. I think he's dying. He's really sick."
"What's the location?"
He gave the address, and turned to look up at the camera, revealing his face before hanging up the phone, closing the call box, and turning away to walk down the street, disappearing into the darkness beyond the camera. In the dim light, Johnny easily saw what looked like a bandage on Braden's right ear, - and scratches on his neck.
"Did you see that?" Johnny said. "The bandage and scratches and he knew the camera was there and deliberately looked up at it so we could see him!"
"He also left his fingerprints on the call box and phone," George confirmed, holding up a paper.
"I've never seen anything like it," Maria said, getting a screen-grab of Braden from the video for printing. "He's not trying to evade discovery at all."
"Because he thinks he's smarter than us," Johnny pointed out. "Smarter than everyone, actually. He made sure we knew he was responsible. Challenging us to find him before he kills again."
"You think he's looking for his parents?" George asked as he took the printout from Maria.
"I'm sure of it. Lana probably knew where they were. That file he stole likely had their address. If he can get that file open, he'll kill them just like he killed Lana." He slammed a fist onto the desk. "Why did Smithson's let him go? "
"Well -" George began, and paused as Maria shook her head at him. George shrugged. "Might as well tell him."
"Tell me what?"
"We're heading out to talk to the admin at Smithson," George said. "See what he can tell us about Braden's time there."
"What about the doctor who was treating him?"
"Dr. Ellingham is still on extended leave, but no one's heard from him since he left to take Braden to a halfway house here in town."
"They never reached the halfway house," Maria added. "In fact, the halfway house told me that they hadn't spoken to Dr. Ellingham about Braden coming to stay there."
Johnny looked from Maria back to George. "So where are they?"
"Probably at Ellingham's place, but the admin, Dr. Marshall, doesn't want to give us any personal info about Ellingham until we talk directly to him."
Johnny hesitated. "Mind if I come along?" he asked. He saw the look that passed between them. "I promise not to interfere."
"I'll hold you to that promise."
"Thanks," Johnny said. He followed them out of the conference room, calling his mom to let her know he wasn't coming right home.
Dr. Craig Marshall welcomed the trio into his office with a grim expression. "I'm very sorry about what happened to your wife, Mr. McClain," he said, indicating that they should take a seat in the small conference area.
Johnny nodded, but didn't speak, instead letting the detectives take the lead as he'd promised to do. He didn't have to wait long.
"What can you tell us about William Braden, Dr. Marshall?" George asked.
"When he first came here eight years ago, he was a very angry, sullen boy. He was polite, but there was an underlying air of watchfulness, as if he were looking for a weak spot to exploit in whoever he was dealing with. We agreed with Dr. McClain's diagnosis that he was showing sociopathic tendencies, and began attempts to deal with that. With little success, unfortunately."
"What do you mean?"
"It seemed as though he were just going through the motions. Telling us what we wanted to hear. And he was working each of us against the other, as though he was trying to manipulate us. I almost lost two of my best psychiatrists because he had them nearly at each other's throats. It was to the point where none of us really wanted to work with him. I was considering asking the state to move him to another facility when Dr. Ellingham came on staff."
"How long ago was that?" Maria wanted to know.
"About five years ago. Yes. Five years ago. Robert was a miracle worker when it came to young Braden. He was given the case because because no one else wanted it. But within a month of therapy with Robert, Braden was polite, helpful. Robert never asked to be relieved of the case. I saw it as a Godsend that he'd come when he had."
"Were they close?"
The older man winced. "Probably too close for a good doctor-patient relationship, but I suppose we tended to ignore that, since his methods were working. I did speak to him about it once, and he told me that if he were successful in treating Braden's illness, it would be a breakthrough that could help so many others. Suggested that it happening here would be a boon to Smithson's image. It was vain of me, I suppose, a bit selfish that I backed off and let him keep doing what he was doing."
"Do you have Dr. Ellingham's records?"
"I thought I did, but seems that the only things in his files are these," he held out a folder with some papers.
Maria took it and started looking through them. "Reports?"
"The doctors are required to file a monthly report on their patients. According to those, Braden was a model patient, who was responding to therapy and well on his way to becoming a productive citizen upon his release from Smithson."
Johnny moved, drawing George's attention. "About that, Dr. Marshall Braden's release was supposed to be predicated on the approval of the judge in his case."
Marshall nodded, took out another paper. "We received a letter from Judge Baker, ordering his release."
Johnny moved to peer at the document once George had taken it. "He mentions Ellingham personally," Johnny noted, then backed off when George glared at him.
"Yes. Apparently Robert took it on himself to send the judge a letter informing him of Braden's response to treatment, and asking for the release on the premise that Braden would continue to see Robert after he was released."
"Can we get copies of these?" George asked Dr. Marshall.
"Those are the copies I had made for you to take," Marshall informed him.
Knowing he was going to make George and Maria angry, Johnny asked, "Doctor, do the patients here have access to computers?"
"We have a closed network that they can use under supervision," Marshall confirmed. "But they have no access to the Internet. When we're preparing them for life after their release from Smithson, occasionally a doctor might ask for full access to help get them used to the electronic free for all out there. But only with constant supervision by one of the staff. I do believe that Robert was of the opinion that Braden was very good with computers. He said that the boy was a 'natural', and hoped to get him into some kind of computer job once he was released."
George pulled the computer printout from his pocket, and held it out for the man to see. "Is this William Braden, Dr. Marshall?"
Marshall looked at it, frowning. "Yes, I believe it is."
"Are you aware that Dr. Ellingham didn't take Braden to the halfway house?" Maria asked, glaring at Johnny.
"No. They never called -"
"According to them, they never got a call from Dr. Ellingham about Braden."
"Really? He told me that they were expecting him early the morning after Braden's release. He was taking Braden to his home for the night, then driving him to the halfway house the next morning."
"Was that standard procedure?"
"No, of course not. But I told you that Braden was a special case."
"You haven't spoken with Dr. Ellingham since then?"
"No. He took some time off. He hadn't since he got here. Even when his grandmother died a year ago, he never missed a day of work. He said he would see Braden settled at the halfway house, and then was considering taking a short trip. He had five weeks of vacation saved up."
"We need his address," George announced.
"Of course," Marshall said, picking up the phone. "Sally, can you get me Dr. Ellingham's home address, please? Thank you." Hanging up the phone, he looked worried. "I hope you're wrong about all of this."
"Does he have any family?"
"He was raised by his grandmother. As I said, she died a year ago, leaving him the house and some property between here and town -" he smiled as Sally came in with a piece of paper. "Thank you." He glanced at the writing, then handed it to George. "Here. Good luck. And please, tell Robert to call and let me know he's OK."
Once in the car, Johnny folded his arms. "The man's an idiot," he said angrily. "Ellingham played him just like Braden played Ellingham."
"That's possible," was George's response.
"So where is Ellingham's place?" Johnny wanted to know.
"On the way back to town," Maria answered. "We'll go get a warrant -"
"You're not going to stop in there and see if Ellingham's there?"
"If he is, then he'll be able to stop any search until we have a warrant," Maria said.
"By the book, Johnny," George added. "Hey, you've worked with Judge Baker, right?"
"A few times," Johnny confirmed. "You can't ask him for a warrant -"
"I wasn't going to," Maria said as she drove the car.
George pulled a paper from the file folder that Dr. Marshall had given them. "This is the letter he sent approving the release of Braden. Does it look legit to you?"
Johnny scanned the letter. "It looks like the judge's letterhead. The signature could be his, I suppose. I'd have to compare it with one I know he signed." He looked at it again. "Wait a minute. This was signed a month ago."
George nodded. "The judge was in DC, being interviewed for a federal judgeship."
"I don't think he would have taken the time to write this," Johnny said, handing the paper back to George. "So it's likely a forgery."
"I'd be willing to bet on it. We'll check with the Judge, and see what he says. It's likely that Ellingham never sent him a letter, either."
Once back at the station, George and Maria both agreed to keep Johnny in the loop regarding their investigation, and they parted company after George gave him the photo of Braden so that Johnny could show it to the kids and his mom just in case Braden was still lurking in the area.
Johnny called his mother's home, and told her that he would be home later. "I need to go check something to do with the Coburn case," he explained.
"Make sure you get something to eat, dear."
He smiled. "I will, Mom. How's Jimmy?"
"He was sleeping when I left the hospital just after lunch. They're making arrangements to send him to a rehab center in a week or so, once they're sure there aren't any lasting effects from the drug that man gave him. What happened at Smithson? Did you find out anything?"
"I'll tell you about it when I get home if it's not too late," he said. "Tell the kids I'll come in and tuck them in when I get there."
"I will, Johnny. Be careful."
Chuckling to himself, Johnny turned his car north, heading toward the beach where Gerald Coburn claimed to have been at the time of his wife's death.
Stopping into a little diner, he picked up a burger and fries, hesitated over the offered beer to 'wash it all down with', and instead grabbed a bottle of water. Heading back to the car, he drove to the area of beach and enjoyed his meal while people watching.
A group of teenagers were laughing and playing
loud music. A family was gathered on a blanket enjoying a picnic.
Two women were laying on blankets, face down, getting some sun.
As the sun hit the distant horizon, the family packed up, and left the beach. The father carried the youngest child in his arms.
The two women left soon after, but the teens stayed on the beach. After a little while, he got out of the car and wandered down onto the soft sand, not too far from the group.
They obviously hadn't seen him, since they never missed a beat. Some of the boys found some driftwood, and a minute later, there was a small fire in the midst of the four boys and four girls. Johnny caught an occasional laugh, and of the girls said, "I'm not sure if I should -"
He caught sight of a can of beer that flashed in the firelight. Knowing they were all likely underage, Johnny decided it was time to step in.
Standing up, he brushed the sand from his jeans and moved forward. "You kids know that it's illegal to have a fire down here, right?"
One of the boys stood up. "So? I don't see any cops around here-"
Johnny slipped his badge out and flashed it. "You do now." He conveniently left out the fact that he was a cop on leave.
"Shit!" one of the boys muttered. "If I get in trouble again, man, my old man is gonna have a fit!"
"Tell you what," Johnny said. "I'll ignore the fire and the beer if I can get some information."
"Do you kids come here often?"
"Almost every day," the spokesman answered.
"Have any of you ever seen an older woman with gray hair and two black labs out here?"
Most of the kids shook their heads, but one girl spoke up. "I have." Realizing that everyone was looking at her, she seemed to shrink back.
"Do you know who she is?" Johnny asked in a soft voice.
"Not her name, but I live just up the road, and sometimes I come down here at night to think, you know?" Johnny nodded. "I've seen her down here with the dogs, tossing a stick for them to chase. I heard her call their names. Sampson and Delilah."
"What time does she usually show up?" Johnny wanted to know, hiding the fact that he'd heard the dogs' names from Gerald Coburn's statement.
"If I come down here, it's usually around 11, and she gets here about the same time."
"Thank you," Johnny said. "Now. I think it's time all of you go home."
There was a chorus of objection, but the spokesman said, "Let's go, guys." When he would have picked up the two six packs, Johnny stepped forward.
"You can leave those."
"Okay, okay. Sheesh."
As they left the beach, Johnny heard one of the boys say "Probably gonna drink it himself."
Johnny stood looking at the cans of beer, starting to wonder if the universe was against him. Sighing, he picked up the contraband and carried it to a trash can near the stairway that lead down to the beach from the parking area. Checking his watch, he saw that it was almost 10. If the girl had been right, he had an hour before the woman usually showed, so he sat down on the steps to wait.
Johnny sat there, remembering the days when he and Lana had spent time on a beach very similar to this one. Late evenings spent sitting on a sandy blanket, watching the sun fade on the horizon, then laying under the starry sky, listening to the sound of the ocean waves.
They had seriously considered buying a house near the beach, but then they had found the house around the corner from his mother's, and Lana had decided it was meant to be.
"Family's important, Johnny," she had insisted. "I want our kids to grow up to know their grandmother. And the house is perfect -" she had smiled at his grimace. "Or it will be, once we get it fixed up."
He wasn't looking forward to moving back into that house. Without Lana, the place seemed to have lost its soul, as it were.
The introspection was ended abruptly by the sound of a dog's excited bark. Their was enough light from the moon for Johnny to see a small, thin woman with white hair that shone brightly even in the dim light.
She was watching as two black Labrador Retrievers ran out to fight to retrieve a stick she was throwing. Rising, Johnny moved across the sand in their direction. Seeing him distracted the dogs from the stick, and they both ran up to him, tails wagging.
"Hello there," he said, petting the dogs before looking up at the woman. "Hi. Nice dogs."
"They're my babies," she told him. "Sampson -" she said, nodding toward the larger dog.
"And Delilah," Johnny finished for her, seeing her surprise at his 'guess'. Extending his hand, he said, "I'm John McClain," he told her.
She took his hand in a firm grip. "Lila Dobbins. You either figured out her name because of his, or you already knew it somehow."
There was no sign of a ring on her left hand, so Johnny figured she was likely unmarried. "Ms. Dobbins, I'm working for a lawyer who's investigating a client's alibi in a murder case."
"Really? And how does that involve me?"
"How long have you lived in this area?"
"I moved in a year ago, but was gone until about two months ago."
"When did you move in, exactly? Do you remember?"
"I'm not likely to forget it, young man." She told him the date. "It was my first day in the house -" she looked back down the beach, "just down there."
"Did you and the dogs come down to the beach that evening?" Johnny asked.
"Of course we did. I knew they were going to cooped up for a while until I could get them back East with me Why?"
"Do you be chance remember seeing this man down here that night?" Johnny took out his cellphone and brought up a photo of Coburn that he'd taken from the files. "He talked to the dogs for a minute-"
"Yes. Yes, I do. He seemed troubled about something, but I was already thinking about how I was going to get the dogs to the kennel and make my flight early the next morning. Is he OK?"
"His wife was murdered that evening he claims he was here when it happened. Do you remember what time it was when you saw him?"
"Around this time, I believe. I've always taken the dogs out at 11 before we go to bed. To let them run off some energy. His wife? Poor man. He was still here when we left the beach, sitting over there, staring at the water."
"The police looked for you during their investigation but no one knew anything about you or the dogs."
"No, they wouldn't. I bought the house through an agent. We were living in Florida, but after one too many hurricanes, I decided to move out here and just deal with earthquakes. The first time I saw the house was that day, and I got a phone call that my sister had had a stroke back in Florida."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"She's OK now, but as the older sister, I had to go back and take care of her. I hadn't met any of the neighbors here, and I left very early the morning after the man and I met. You're working for an attorney, you said?"
"The man you met that night, Gerald Coburn, was convicted of his wife's murder six months ago, Ms Dobbins," Johnny informed her.
"Oh my! If I'd known - I was so caught up with my sister -"
"Understandable," Johnny said. "But it does explain why the police weren't able to track you down at the time."
"That poor man. What can I do to help?"
"Would you be willing to talk to the attorney I'm working for and write out a statement that we can take to the judge and try to get Gerald Coburn a new trial at least if not released."
"Here's his card," Johnny said, taking one out of his pocket. "His name is Carl Markham. He'll be expecting your call."
Back at the car, Johnny called Carl, telling him that he'd found the witness, and that she would be contacting him the next day to make a statement. He also told him about the video and trip out to Smithson.
"Good work, Johnny," Carl said. "Once I have her statement, I'll take it to the judge and file a request for a new trial due to new evidence."
"You think he'll grant it?"
"With a witness that can totally clear Coburn?" Carl snorted. "Yeah. But I'd still like something that points to the real killer of Margie Coburn."
"I'll start looking into that tomorrow," Johnny said.
"You know the kids are expecting to move back into the house tomorrow."
"Tomorrow's Friday," Johnny stated. "I said this weekend."
"They think that Friday starts the weekend. Just wanted to give you a heads up. They were all excited about going home tomorrow. Your mom and I spent most of the afternoon over there, getting things ready."
"No, thank you. You've been a big help on this case. Talk to you tomorrow."
Johnny hung up the phone and sat there in the car, staring at the ocean for several more minutes, thinking about the impending return to the house where Lana had been brutally murdered.
He knew that if he insisted, the kids would agree not to go back, but he also knew that uprooting them from the house that was the only home two of them had ever known was wrong. Only JJ had lived elsewhere, but he had no real memory of the smaller house they had rented.
Starting the car, Johnny drove to the house, parking in the driveway as he always had. He'd been in the house since Lana's death but the last time he'd had company. He needed to know what his reaction would be without any distractions.
Taking a deep breath, Johnny got out of the car and instead of taking the easy route using the side door into the dining room, he went around the porch to the front door. The light was on as it had been that night. Grabbing the knob, he turned it, and was relieved when it didn't move, since that meant it was locked. Taking out his keys, he opened the door, and stood just outside, looking into the dark interior.
That was different, too, since the light in the kitchen had been on that night, as well as the only remaining light left unbroken in the living room. Reaching inside the door, he flipped the switch, illuminating the entry way. Taking another deep breath, he stepped inside and closed the door behind him, leaning against it as he surveyed the small room.
The cleaners had removed all trace of the blood and glass that had been on the tiled floor and walls. Except for the missing vase and baseball bat, it looked exactly the same as it had for years. The tile flooring and wood paneling on the walls that Lana had picked out.
She had picked everything out. The round table in the middle of the room, the umbrella stand and that ended up holding baseball bats instead, the mirror on the wall -
Johnny turned slowly toward the dark living room to his right, stopping in the double open doorway to try and banish the mental flash of Lana's soft moan and the sight of her broken body laying only a few feet inside.
He drew himself up, setting his shoulders as he stepped into the room and automatically found the light switch on the wall. As light flooded the room, he confirmed that the crew had done a very good job here as well.
There was no sign of blood on the wood floor, the furniture was all intact. The lamps were all on the tables.
Nothing revealed that a murder had taken place in this room. It looked like a perfectly normal room.
But Johnny still saw Lana on the floor, still saw the coffee table up-ended, the lamps askew. He wondered if that was ever going to change.
Heading into the kitchen, thru the doorway at the back of the living room, he entered the pantry, hoping that the bottle he'd stashed there was still in place but it was gone. Lana had probably gone through the house, tossing out any liquor she could find. She had enjoyed an occasional glass of wine, but there wasn't even any of that in the house.
In fact, he noted, looking inside the refrigerator, that there was nothing in there that was out of date or spoiled. His mother and Carl had done a good job getting things ready in preparation for their return. She had even packed Lana's things up and put them into the storage building in the back yard, with Carl's help, as they had discussed.
What had been Lana's office to the right of the kitchen was now a bedroom, with a few of his mother's personal items already in place, including a prized photo of her grandchildren. Picking up the frame, he traced the smiles on his children's faces. Taking a deep breath, he put the photo down and squared his shoulders.
He could do this. For their sake. Because it was what Lana would expect him to do.
Johnny was greeted by three sets of eyes the next morning as he entered the dining room, all giving him an expectant look. "Here's your coffee, Daddy," Rachel said, putting the cup into his hands.
"Thank you, sweetie," he said, sitting down at the table.
"Gramma made pancakes," Henry announced, his own portion already half eaten on the plate before him.
"And bacon," JJ added with a grin. He knew his dad's weakness.
As if on cue, Martha appeared from the kitchen area with a plate of pancakes and bacon, placing it before him with a smile on her face. "There you go. Good morning."
"Morning, Mom." He made a show of ignoring the eyes watching him as he picked up the syrup and squeezed some onto his plate, coating the pancakes and the bacon. Picking up his fork, he finally returned their looks. "Finish breakfast, then go get your stuff ready."
"We have it ready," JJ informed him. "It's sitting beside the front door."
Johnny took a bite, chewed, then said, "Well, before we go, the kitchen has to be cleaned from breakfast -"
"Except for our plates, that's done, Daddy," Rachel assured him.
Johnny exchanged a look with his mother. "I didn't want to have to tell you, but I have to meet your Uncle Carl this morning about the case we're working on." Seeing their disappointment, he smiled. "But there's no reason the rest of you can't go on over to the house and settle in. I'll be home later."
He knew that Martha knew what he was doing He didn't want the kids to be watching him as they entered the house again. When she spoke, he gave her a grateful look.
"I think that's a wonderful idea," she agreed. "Will you be home for lunch?"
"For supper, for sure," he said. "I'm not positive about what's going to happen this morning."
"You'll be home for supper?" Rachel questioned.
"I will," he assured her, smiling at his mother when the girl gave him a hug.
"I love you," she said.
Fifteen minutes later, Johnny stood beside his car, watching as his kids and mom climbed into Martha's car to drive around the corner. JJ had taken his truck over earlier that morning. He waved to them as they pulled into the street, then got into his car and pulled out as well, heading not to Carl's office, but to the small house where Gerald Coburn's mother and children were living.
She smiled as she opened the door. "May I help you?"
"Mrs. Coburn, I'm Johnny McClain -"
"You're the man that's helping Gerald's new lawyer, aren't you?" she said.
"Yes, ma'am," Johnny replied. "May I come in?"
"Of course." She stepped back as two children came into the small living room. "Danny, Katie, why don't you go outside and play in the yard?"
"Ok, Grandma," Danny agreed, but he gave Johnny a long look as he sheparded his younger sister out of the door. Johnny had noticed the swing set and toys in the front yard of the house when he'd pulled up.
"Would you like some coffee, Mr. McClain?"
"Not at the moment. And call me, Johnny, please. Have you spoken to your son or Carl Malcolm this morning?"
"No, I haven't. Why? Has something happened?"
"I confirmed his alibi last night," Johnny confirmed, and was glad she was sitting down.
"You did? Does that mean they'll let him go now?"
"More likely they'll order a new trial. But with an alibi, he has a shot at being cleared."
"Oh, thank God," Anne Coburn sighed prayerfully. "So you found that woman and dogs that Gerald insisted he'd talked to?"
Johnny quickly filled her in on Lila Dobbins' story. "She's meeting with Mr. Malcolm this morning to give him her statement. He'll take that to the DA's office on Monday morning."
"I'm so glad you told me about this," Anne said. "Thank you. Gerald told me that you recently lost your wife, too."
"Yes. I'm keeping busy. It helps. Mrs. Coburn, I need to ask you some questions about Margie. If I can give the DA a possible suspect, he might decide not to retry, but to turn his attention elsewhere."
"I'm not sure how much helpI can be, but I'll try."
"Do you remember Margie or anyone mentioning names of her clients?"
"Not really. I'm sorry. Margie and I didn't really talk much."
"That's ok. Gerald mentioned that Margie kept her client files on flash drives do you still have them by any chance? And the remains of her computer?"
"Yes, I do." She got up from her chair. "Just a minute."
Johnny rose as well, and wandered over to the front window, where he could see the kids outside, playing on the swings.
"Here they are," Anne said, and he turned to see her carrying a plastic box. "They're all password protected," she told him as he took the box from her. "The computer's won't turn on. I'm not very computer savvy," she apologized.
"Neither am I. But I have someone who is and getting into password protected files is something he does well. I've seen him work wonders with broken computers."
"I hope they help. I do know that Gerald was sure that one of her clients was very well-off. I always thought she was working for important people. You know what I mean?"
"It's possible," Johnny agreed. As he would have begun his good byes, his cell phone began to ring. Glancing at it, he saw George Collins' name. "I have to take this."
She smiled and moved away.
"We got our search warrant, Johnny," the detective said. "You want to come with?"
"I'll be right there," Johnny assured him. Ending the call, he turned to Anne. "I have to go. Hopefully all of this will be over soon," he told her.
"From your lips to God's ears," she replied. "Thank you."
Dr. Robert Ellingham's home was an old farmhouse set on ten acres of heavily wooded land about halfway between Smithson and town. It was in serious need of a coat of paint, and there were a few shingles missing from the roof, and a few broken windows in the second story.
"Smithson still hasn't been able to contact Ellingham?" Johnny questioned as they got out of the car and moved toward the front porch.
"Not a peep," George confirmed grimly. Glancing at his partner, he said, "Why don't you go around back, Maria? Just in case he's home and tries to get out that way."
"Give me minute," she nodded, moving away, keeping low in case someone was inside, watching.
"I don't see any sign of life," Johnny said.
"Me either," George agreed. "But better safe than sorry." His cell phone buzzed, and he glanced at the screen. "She's in place. Let's go."
Johnny followed him up the steps to the front door, moving slightly to one side as George knocked.
There was no response. "Did anyone from Smithson come out to do a check?"
"They said there was no answer when they knocked, and the door was locked." George reached out and took the doorknob, shaking it when it wouldn't turn. "Still locked."
"And that's why we - you," Johnny quickly amended, "got a search warrant."
Stepping back, George asked, "Do you want to do the honors?"
Grinning, Johnny studied the locked door as he slipped a small leather case from his pocket. "Hope it won't disappoint if I don't use brute force," he said, taking the lock picks out and setting to work.
"When did you learn to do that?"
"Years ago, when I was undercover with narcotics. Comes in handy."
"How long does it usually take?"
"How about -" Johnny stood up and turned the knob, pushing the door open, "this long?"
George shook his head as he led the way into the house, handing Johnny a pair of gloves to put on.
The furniture was old - and there was a layer of dust everywhere. "Dr. Ellingham?" George called out as Maria joined them from the back of house.
"There's no one back there, either," she told them.
"How did you get inside?" her partner asked.
Maria smiled. "Found a key over the door frame. I'll go upstairs and check it out," she decided, moving toward the narrow stairway.
Johnny wandered toward a doorway that led into the dining room, then to another door - only this one was locked. Using the picks again, he made quick work of the much newer lock.
Inside, they found a table and chair with a computer as Maria joined them. "Upstairs is clear," she told them. "I was going to take a look in the basement, but -" since neither Johnny nor George had made a move toward the machine, Maria sat down and found a pen on the desk and used it to press the keys on the keyboard. "No sense in smudging any prints," she noted.
"What are you doing?" George asked. "Going into the browser history. If he hasn't deleted it -" she paused, reading.
Johnny leaned over, reading the screen as well. "Go to around the time Braden was released," he suggested. "There - is that-?"
Maria clicked the link, and Johnny shook his head when the blog post about Jimmy came up. "Yep."
"Damn," George sighed.
"There's more, too," Maria said, returning to the history. "The last searches were for Mary or Paul Braden."
Johnny frowned. "When were those made?"
"Uh - the day after Lana was killed," she told him. "From what I can see, he wasn't successful."
"Then he hasn't been able to access that drive," Johnny said.
"He's trying," she replied, "Some of the searches are about how to hack into a thumb drive. CSU needs to go over this thing."
"The rest of the house, too," George agreed.
"I'll call it in," Maria told them, grabbing her cellphone. "Why don't you two go check the basement? I'll check out the outbuildings."
"What I want to know is: where is Dr. Effingham?" Johnny asked as he followed George to the doorway under the stairs that led down into the basement via a narrow, creaky wooden stairway.
"Maybe he went with Braden," George suggested, looking around. " You see a light switch anywhere?"
"Here," Johnny said, reaching over George's head to pull a string, sending a dim light above the stairway. "There's a wall switch at the bottom," he noted.
George flipped the switch, and both men stopped as they saw what was revealed by the long florescent tube lights.
A chair sat in the middle of the large room. It was a simple chair, wood, high backed. But the light wood was stained with what looked like blood. Johnny sniffed. "Smell that?"
"Bleach," George confirmed in a grim tone. "It's a damn kill room."
There was a roll of heavy plastic sheeting against one wall, and beside it was a collection of tools, including several hammers and saws. There was an open paper bag marked "LIME".
"This isn't something that was just put here recently," Johnny noted. "Effingham was interested in Braden's case because they were alike."
"If they've joined forces -" he stopped as his phone crackled. "It's Maria."
"I'm in the barn behind the house. I think you need to come out here."
"On the way," George responded, heading for the stairs.
The side door to the barn was open, and as soon as they entered, the saw Maria standing over a mound of earth. "What the -?" George began.
"I think it's a grave," Maria said, indicating the drawing on the wall near the door. "And it's not the only one, just the most recent."
Johnny shook his head, moving to the drawing. "Looks like most of them are animals. Dogs, cats, rabbits. Even a deer that he must have trapped. There's an X where this new grave is, but no indication of what might be in there."
"One way to find out," George said, picking up a nearby shovel and tossing it in Johnny's direction while he took a second shovel.
"Did you find anything in the basement?" Maria asked as she watched them start digging.
"Looks like a kill room," Johnny told her, explaining what they'd found.
"So you think that the doc and Braden have joined forces?"
"It does happen," George confirmed. "Wonder if he went six feet or -" he went silent as the shovel of dirt he lifted revealed black plastic. "Three feet," he decided.
He and Johnny both knelt and carefully brushed the dirt away from the grave.
The sound of a car engine broke the silence, and George exchanged a look with Johnny. "Just in time. I think we need them here for this."
"Yeah," Johnny agreed, with a hint of reluctance. As much as he wanted to simply find out who was in that tarp, he knew as well that they needed to do things by the book.
"I'll let them know where we are," Maria volunteered, slipping out of the doorway.
It was nearly half an hour of photos and measurements and discussion before Gabe, the CSU tech, had the body lifted from its grave and opened the plastic sheeting.
What was revealed wasn't pretty. The man had been cut multiple times, most of his joints appeared to have suffered major trauma, he was missing two fingers. "That's not Braden," Johnny announced. While most of the dead man's body had been mutilated, one fact was evident: "Look at his ears. No sign of an earring or damage from one being pulled out."
Maria held up her cellphone with a photo. "It's Dr. Ellingham," she confirmed. "How long has he been dead, Gabe?" she asked.
'Hard to say. He's coated with lime, stone cold, rigor has passed - even with the lime, it's clear that decomp has begun - the swelling -"
George's warning tone caused the tech to sigh. "Hard to say for certain without a full autopsy, but I'd say at least two weeks. Maybe longer."
"Braden killed him right after they got here," Johnny stated. "He used Ellingham to teach him how to use the computer, then to get out of Smithson."
Maria nodded in agreement. "And had no further use for the doc, so he killed him."
"Damn," George muttered. "Well, we'll get a APB out on the doc's car, and watch any of his credit cards. We'll find him, Johnny."
"Hopefully before he kills someone else," Johnny replied.
After getting a ride back to the station with a uniformed unit, Johnny got into his car, his thoughts whirling out of control. The afternoon at Ellingham's house had been terrifying. The good doctor had killed at least a hundred animals over the years- his only human vicitm appeared to have been his "beloved" grandmother, which he'd buried in the small family cemetary near the house - but had made a notation on his "kill board". No doubt he had hoped to add more victims to that board with Braden's help - but Braden had had other plans. Johnny recalled Lana once talking about sociopaths, how some of them could work with other sociopaths to form a "team".
"But most of them are loners. They can pretend to connect with someone, sometimes become who that person wants them to be, until they get what they want, and then their true nature cmoes out. That's why they're so dangerous. They can choose to appear totally normal if necessary."
Looking up, Johnny realized that he was sitting in front of Hank's Bar. He'd gone into autopilot mode. The idea of having a drink, just one drink, was strong. One drink, and he'd go home to his kids. Maybe a drink would keep him from telling them about what he'd seen today.
He took the key out of the ignition, and released his seatbelt. His hand was on the door when his phone rang. For a split second, he considered ignoring it, but finally took it out and answered. "Hello, Carl."
"How's it going?"
"Been a rough one," was Johnny's response. "Spent most of the day at Ellingham's place after I left Mrs. Coburn. Did you that witness statement?"
"I did. It's possible that Ms. Dobbins is going to try to help Gerald and his family once he's out. She feels pretty guilty about not being here when she was needed."
"I got that feeling last night, too."
A couple came out of the bar, laughing, as the man called out. "See you next time, Hank."
Johnny winced as Carl spoke, "Where are you?"
"Parked in front of Hank's," he admitted. "I haven't gone in."
"It's your decision, but I'd rather you stop by here on the way home."
"I'm not going to lecture you. But if you need to talk -"
"Are you at the office?"
"No. I'm at the house."
Johnny smiled at the woman who opened the door smiled. "Mr. Johnny. It's good to see you. I'm so sorry about Miss Lana-"
Johnny gave her a quick hug. "Thank you, Louisa. It's good to see you." Louisa had been Martha's housekeeper/companion since before Lana had married Johnny. Her iron-gray hair was in a neat braid down her back, and she was dressed very simply. "Are you getting settled in?"
"I love it," she declared. "It's nice to have a smaller place to take care of."
"I can imagine. Carl asked me to stop by -"
"He's out in the back yard," she told him. "Asked me to send you in that direction when you arrived."
"Thanks. Where is Martha?"
"Did you get anymore information from Mrs. Coburn?" Carl asked, surprising Johnny when he didn't ask questions about his having been at - almost at - a bar.
"Uh. Yeah. I got the thumbdrives and what was left of the computer. Now I just need to find a computer expert to get into the drives and the hard drive - if that's possible."
"I know you're not going to like this idea, but you already have an expert you can use."
"Who?" Johnny realized what he meant. "Henry? Carl, he's a ten year old. He doesn't need to be involved -"
"He doesn't have to read the information, just get it open so you can read it. All of the experts I usually use aren't available on weekends. I don't want to have to wait. I don't want Carl to have to wait. He's waited long enough."
"Did I see something about Margie Coburn's cell phone records?"
"I'll get them to you before you leave."
"Ok. I had another thought - Do you have any connection to the IRS?"
"I might. Why?"
"The reason Margie had to cancel that trip was that her client was facing an audit the following Monday morning. Surely they keep a record of who's being audited. And - whenever we've done our taxes there's been an ID number for the accountant - Do they keep records about those numbers?"
Carl chuckled, shaking his head. "I have a client who works for the IRS. I'll give him a call, see if he can get me the information. But it likely won't be until Monday -"
"I'll start with whatever Henry can find on that hard drive - and tie it to the phone record."
"Fair enough." He sat down in one of the deck chairs. "What happened at Ellingham's?"
"It was a nightmare," Johnny said. Over the next few minutes, he went back over the afternoon's events. "Braden played everyone," Johnny said. "He's killed three times now. As far as we know, anyway." He moved away, looking up at the dark, star-spattered sky. "Who knows what he's doing? We don't know where he is, where he's going "
"We'll find him, Johnny. Right now, I'm concerned about you."
"Worried I'll slip up? I have no idea how I ended up at Hank's, and I might have gone in if you hadn't called when you did. But I didn't. And I'll be more careful from here on out."
Carl gave him a long look before nodding. "Fair enough. It'll be time for dinner, soon. Let me get those cell phone records so you can get home to those kids."
Johnny entered the house through the dining room door so that he could avoid having to go into the living room for as long as possible. His mother was in the kitchen, standing at the stove, stirring a pot.
"I was starting to worry you wouldn't be home for dinner after all," she said.
"Sorry. I got tied up with - things." He leaned over to sniff the air above the stove. "Spaghetti?" he questioned.
She lifted the lid from another pot. "And meatballs," she confirmed.
"Did you talk to Jimmy today?" he asked, picking up the box he'd gotten from Mrs. Coburn.
"Yes. He's better. What are we going to do when they release him?"
"He's a material witness in Lana's murder," he reminded her. "And he'll have to answer for taking that money. But Carl thinks he'll be able to get the theft disappear with a plea bargain. Carl also said he was going to pay for him to go into detox," Johnny told her. "Where are the kids?"
"JJ's out back on the phone. Rachel's in her room, on HER phone, and Henry said something about his computer."
"They should be in here helping you with dinner."
"They offered. I told them I could handle it, and if not, I'd call for help." She put a hand on his arm as he would have turned away. "Are you ok, honey?"
"I"m fine, Mom. Today's just been a rough day."
"If you need to talk, I'm here," she told him. "Please don't hold back to protect me like you did with Jimmy. You forget that I was a ER nurse and saw all kinds of things.
"I'll tell you about it later," he promised. "How long until dinner's ready?"
"Not long. Go get cleaned up. And you might ask your daughter to come down and set the table, please."
Johnny left the kitchen by the door into the entry hall, consciously avoiding the door into the living room, instead turning to go up the stairs.
There was music coming from Rachel's room as Johnny juggled the box in his hands and tapped on the door. The music stopped, and Rachel called out, "Come in."
"Gramma needs you to set the table," Johnny called back.
"Daddy!" she cried, and the door was opened immediately. Giving him a hug, she asked, "Did you have a good day?"
"Better now that I've seen you," he told her. "Gramma wants you to set the table."
"Okay." She paused. "Daddy, thank you for agreeing to come home. I know it can't be easy for you."
Johnny managed a smile. "I'll be fine. See you in a few minutes." He watched her as she went down the stairs before he turned to his youngest son's room. The door was open, and he saw Henry sitting before the computer that was his pride and joy - he'd built it mostly on his own. "Hi, Champ," Johnny said, putting the box down on Henry's bed, within easy reach of the computer.
"Hi, Dad. What's this?" he asked, peering into the box. "Thumb drives, and - a broken laptop?"
"Your Uncle Carl seems to think you can get into those drives and the hard drive on the laptop."
"Does this have to do with the case you're helping him with?"
"It does. I'm hoping they'll lead me to whoever killed Margie Coburn. If you can access the drives."
"I'm sure I can."
"I just need access, Henry. Get the files opened so I can read them, that's it."
"So you want me to get them open, but not read them, right?" Henry asked. "I understand, Dad," he said. "I'm not officially 'on the case'." Picking up the remains of the laptop, he examined it. "I think I can pull the hard drive. It might have been damaged when the laptop was trashed," he warned.
"Whatever you can do."
"Dinner's ready!" Rachel called up the stairs.
"I'll get started on this tonight," Henry stated.
"As quick as you can. Carl wants to be able to have something to show the DA on Monday. Let's go have some spaghetti."
"Last one down has to clear the table," Henry declared, and took off out of the door, leaving Johnny to follow at a slightly slower pace, chuckling at the proof that while Henry was a genius when it came to computers, he was still a ten year old boy.
After dinner, Rachel and Georgia disappeared into the living room to watch something on TV. JJ left to go hang out with some friends while Henry went up to start working on the computer files.
Johnny cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher, then took a glass of tea outside to the patio, where he started studying the phone records he'd gotten from Carl.
He crossed off any calls from her husband's phone, then highlighted the other numbers, writing down the ones that were repeated with any frequency. The last call the phone had received was one that she had both called and taken calls from multiple times. This number had no name attached to it, unlike most of the other numbers.
Knowing the likely result, Johnny took out his cell and dialed the number. He fully expected to hear a "not in service" recording. But the recording was for voicemail, without a name, of course. Opting not to leave a message, Johnny ended the call, but circled the number on the page before him.
There were two options: either Margie Colburn's client had changed his number and someone else now had it, or he was so sure that he couldn't be traced that he'd kept the number.
Johnny was about to call Carl when the back door opened and his mother came out. "Movie finished?"
"I've seen it," she told him. "I'm not interrupting, am I?
"No." She sat down across the round table from him. "What happened today?"
Johnny glanced at the house, mostly to make sure none of the kids were close enough to hear the conversation. Sitting forward, he said, "We got the search warrant for Dr. Ellingham's place."
"The psychologist who released that monster?"
He nodded. "The reason he and Braden got on so well is that - Ellingham was also a sociopath "
"Was?" she questioned as he paused.
"Braden killed him. Buried him with all of Ellingham's victims - mostly animals."
"Oh my God," Georgia prayed. "How horrible. You said mostly animals?"
"It looks like he might have killed his grandmother as his first human victim - after he became William Braden's doctor."
"Was there any other evidence that about where Braden might be now?"
"The computers. At least one cell phone. But Ellingham's car was gone."
"Braden's been in that place for 8 years. He knows how to drive?"
"Ellingham likely taught him. George and Maria are going to delve further into the doctor's life to see what else they might find."
"Did Braden find his parents?"
'Not as far as we know - but not for want of trying. He ran several searches for them on the internet. But once he gets into that thumbdrive, he'll be able to go right to them."
"Then we need to find them first," Georgia pointed out. "And warn them."
"George and Maria have the best computer people working on it."
Henry's voice caused the both of them to turn toward the sliding glass door. "Yes, Henry?" Johnny asked.
"I got into the files you gave me."
Henry grinned sheepishly. "I used a software program that I wrote last year."
Johnny stood up. "On my way, Champ." He glanced at his mother, who stood as well.
"I'm going to finish watching the movie with Rachel," she announced.
"She used the same password for all of the drives," Henry noted with a tinge of disapproval as his dad sat down at the computer. He indicated a small box close by. "And the hard drive had some damaged sectors, but I was able to access some of the files. One of them," he leaned forward and clicked on it, "looks like a spreadsheet."
"Thank you, Henry," Johnny said. "Looks like this is what I need."
It was more than just a spreadsheet. It was a list of bank deposits, listed by client name, with links to contact information for each client. He silently counted the number of clients, then asked his son, "Henry, how many thumb drives are there?"
"Fifteen," Henry answered after doing a quick count. "And there are sixteen names here. Can you mark each of those with a name so I can-"
"I already did." Held up one of the drives to show a small label with a name.
"Ok. I'll read a name, you find the drive and set it aside."
After six drives had been put aside, Johnny called "Nelson, L"
Hank went through the remaining drives, then shook his head. "It's not here, Dad."
"Bingo!" Johnny declared, studying the screen. "These are some big deposits, too. Let's find out who L. Nelson is," he murmured, clicking the name. "Laurence Nelson. That name is familiar."
Henry turned to his other computer, the one that he used for testing programs on slower systems. "Let's find out," he said, typing the name into the search box. "Wow."
Johnny moved his chair closer. Nelson was a lawyer who had announced that he was running for a state office six months ago. He was, according to the page, married with two kids. Clicking on the campaign page, Johnny found a photo of Nelson shaking hands with the Chief of Police
Johnny grabbed his cellphone and dialed Carl's number. "Hey, Carl - I think we've got him. And I think I know why Gerald Coburn was railroaded. Our guy's connected."
"Does the name Laurence Nelson mean anything to you?" He was scanning the list of endorsements on Nelson's page as he spoke.
"He's running for state senate, of course I've heard of him."
"Was he a criminal lawyer?"
"No, his specialty was business, corporate law. Still is, I would guess. He was one of Margie Coburn's clients?"
"His is the only thumbdrive missing," Johnny told him.
"He announced that he was running the week after she was killed," Carl said.
"How do we want to handle this? If he got protection during the investigation, he'll get it now "
"Let me think about it. I'll see you tomorrow. We're coming over for lunch."
"Okay. I'll talk to you then. Night."
"Night." Johnny hung up. "Too bad we don't have access to that file that he took."
"We might be able to get access, Dad," Henry told him.
Johnny looked at his youngest son. "How?"
"From what I can tell, she backed up her files to the cloud."
"The cloud," Johnny repeated thoughtfully.
"Yeah. It's a 'virtual storage' place online. Lots of people use it so they'll have important files if something happens to their computer. It's secure. You have to know the password to access it."
"Can you use that program to get the password for the cloud?"
"No. But - I don't think I'll have to. Remember I said that she used the same password for everything? All of those drives. So she probably used it for the back up." He would have turned back to the computer, but Johnny put a hand on his shoulder.
"Tomorrow morning will be soon enough, Champ. You've done enough for one evening. Thank you."
"I enjoyed it," Henry insisted. "I've already decided that this is what I want to do - computer forensics."
"Yeah." He grinned. "So I guess I'll be the one to follow the family tradition and going into law enforcement." He shrugged. "Well, JJ's planning on playing baseball, and Rachel - who knows what SHE wants to do?"
"I'm sure she'll figure it out eventually," Johnny told him. "Get some rest."
"I will. Night, Dad."
Johnny was coming down the stairs as Rachel came out of the living room. "Movie over?" he asked.
"Yes. I'm going up to bed." She gave him another hug, then looked at him. "Are you ok, Dad?"
"I'll be fine. Night."
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, the front door opened, and JJ entered the house. "Hi, Dad," he said. "I thought you'd be in bed by now."
"I was just coming down to lock up," Johnny explained. "I thought that you'd be out later."
JJ shrugged. "Yeah, well - can we talk, Dad?"
"Sure. Something wrong?"
"Not really," JJ said, moving toward the living room doorway.
Johnny moved toward the front door instead. "Why don't we go out onto the porch?" he suggested, unable to meet his son's gaze, knowing the reason for the question.
"Yeah." He went ahead of Johnny.
Closing the door, Johnny went to one of the chairs that sat in front of the picture window. "What's wrong?"
"I've been thinking - what would you sat if I told you that I've decided not to go away to college next month?"
Johnny was floored by the question. "What about playing baseball?"
JJ shrugged. "I could try out without college. It's not a prerequisite for playing, if you're good enough," he finished with a grin.
Another shrug. "With mom - dying, I'm not sure breaking up the family is a good idea right now. I'd only lose a year. Maybe a semester."
"You'd lose the scholarship," Johnny pointed out.
"Uncle Carl said that I really don't need it. They can give it to someone who does this way."
"Sounds like you've thought about this."
"Yeah, I have."
Johnny sat forward. "It's your decision. I won't insist that you have to go to college now. But you know how proud your mom was of your getting that scholarship and how she supported your dream of playing major league ball."
"And that can still happen. You know that I had some pro scouts at games. When I told them I was going to college first, they backed off - but I'm sure they're still interested."
"Like I said, it's up to you. Don't wait too long to decide. If you aren't going to use that scholarship, they'll need time to give it to someone else."
"I'd already considered that, too," JJ admitted. "Thanks, Dad." He smiled. "Hey, if you decide to stick with this private detective thing, you might need some help -"
Johnny chuckled. "We'll discuss it. I haven't made up my mind yet."
JJ stood up. "I'm going to bed. Night, Dad."
After everyone else was in their room, Johnny verified that the doors were all locked, finding himself at the door into the living room.
The darkness was oppressive. Taking a step into the room, he forced himself to lower his gaze to the floor where Lana's broken body had been. He could still hear the sound of her moans, see her broken body.
He was sure now that William Braden had deliberately targeted his strikes with a baseball bat to injure Lana's legs and arms in an attempt to prolong her suffering. Her face was left untouched, so she could answer his questions.
Unable to go further into the room, Johnny backed up, turning to go up the stairs. Climbing the steps, he turned to go into the bedroom.
He hadn't been in here since that night, when he had changed his clothes and put them into an evidence bag. He knew that his mother had removed all of Lana's things from the closet and bathroom, and she had changed the sheets on the king sized bed as well.
The photos of himself and Lana and the kids were still on the nightstands and dresser. He picked up the one of him and Lana on their wedding day. They'd been so happy. Lana had looked like an angel in her white gown.
Even after all this time, Johnny had been surprised that she had fallen in love with him. Sighing, he put the photo down and opened a drawer to take out some clean underware and Pjs before going into the connecting bath for a quick, hot shower.
After washing as much of the horror he'd seen that day out of his mind and off his body, Johnny returned to the bedroom.
As he got into bed, he froze for a moment. Even with a change of sheets, he could still smell Lana. The pillow seemed infused with her scent, he realized.
He tried to *not* breathe too deeply, but it seemed that his lungs had a mind of their own, because he drew a full, deep breath, filling those lungs with the scent.
For the first time in several weeks, Johnny relaxed. Turning out the light, he pulled the second pillow to him, hugging it close, as he closed his eyes and slept.
He woke up to the sound of a knock on the door. Opening his eyes, he blinked away the sleep. "Come in," he called out.
Rachel opened the door and came into the room with a tray in her hands, followed by Henry. "Good morning, Daddy," she said, standing there beside the bed while Johnny sat up.
"Morning, honey. What's this?" he asked as she put the tray across his legs.
"Breakfast," Henry supplied. "Gramma made pancakes and sausages." He held up the mug in his hands. "And I have the coffee."
"Ah. Coffee," Johnny growled, grabbing the mug that had been a Father's Day gift and taking a drink. "I needed that." Picking up his fork, he cut into the pancakes and took a bite before nodding. "Delicious," he murmured. "Thank you both."
After lunch, Johnny and Carl went out onto the patio. Using Henry's laptop computer, Johnny pulled up the information the young man had found so far.
"He's trying to access the back up of Nelson's files that were on that flash drive," he told Carl.
'We might not need it," Carl said. "Looking at this list of donors to Nelson's campaign, I'm seeing a lot of big names here. Judges, attorneys, city officials, state officials The man's seriously connected."
"Delatorre and Cooper wouldn't have botched the investigation this badly, and I don't think either of them would be on that list."
"No, but if they were pointed in a specific direction- to focus solely on the husband-" Carl's voice trailed off as he studied the list of names. "But who gave the order?"
"Who is Nelson's lawyer?"
"He handles his own legal matters. Hard to believe that he would have handled this himself. Oh -I got in touch with a friend who works at the IRS. Now, she told me that according her records-"
Johnny raised an eyebrow. "She?" he questioned.
Carl sighed, but continued. "According to her records, Nelson was supposed to be audited, but he asked for an extension since his accountant had died and he had no idea where his records might be. Then, the audit slipped through the cracks and was forgotten about once he filed to run for office."
"That figures," Johnny nodded. "If those books aren't clean, then Margie Colson knew what he was doing -"
"Doesn't explain why he would have killed her. Hopefully Henry will be able to access that backup file and we can find out what was going on."
"You realize that we might have stumbled onto a major conspiracy, don't you?"
"Thought about it most of the night," Carl confirmed. "Depending on who's involved, it could get -messy."
"That's putting it mildly."
Johnny looked up as Henry came out of the house. "I got it, Dad," he announced, joining them to put a small thumbdrive into the port on his laptop. "She used the same password," he told them.
"Thanks, Henry," Carl told the boy.
"I also found some other stuff in the backup," Henry told them. "File is marked 'Insurance'. If you have any questions," Henry said, "Just call," as he headed back toward the house.
Both men turned their attention back to the computer screen and the files that Henry had retrieved. The files from Nelson's account were mostly records of various deposits of 'payment' for 'services rendered' for several well known people. But the most interesting files were the ones in the Insurance file. A letter from Margie Coburn, detailing what she knew about Nelson's business dealings. And one to Nelson himself, tendering her resignation as his accountant. After reading for a moment, their eyes met.
"So- What's the next step?" Johnny asked.
"Well, it's a sure thing that Nelson has already gotten rid of his copy of the files and his books are probably so clean you could eat off of them But this is proof that they weren't always that way." Taking out his cellphone, he dialed a number. "Hi, Trisha... I know, it's Sunday. I'm sorry. But - is there anyway you can meet with me today?... Yes. Here... I wouldn't ask, but it's important...Yeah. It concerns Nelson What time? I'll have a car waiting to bring you to my office. And Trisha - Thank you."
"Your IRS connection?" Johnny questioned.
"She's an investigator. She'll be here around 6. We'll take all of this stuff to my offices and let her tell us if she can do anything with it."
"Sounds like a plan," Johnny confirmed.
By afternoon on Monday, Carl, Johnny and IRS Investigator Trisha Williams had met with the District Attorney, laying out the information about Gerald Coburn's confirmed alibi and the possible involvement of Laurence Nelson in Margie Nelson's murder.
The meeting was held at Carl's office, since Trisha wanted a to make sure Nelson had no idea they were coming for him.
But the information was enough for the DA to agree to petition the court to have Gerald Coburn's conviction overturned, and grant him his freedom.
Alone with his brother in law after the meeting ended, Johnny listened while Carl made arrangements to go and tell his client the good news. As he hung up the phone, he looked at Johnny. "So. I have to ask: are you going back to the department?"
"I don't think so. You were right that I'm probably not their favorite person right now."
"Does that mean you're going private?"
"I need to find out what I need to do -"
"With twenty years as a cop, I think you'll qualify. With the right help, your application can be fast tracked. I'm sure the firm will keep you in clients. And you can find clients on your own."
"People who have been let down by the system," Johnny noted. "People like Gerald Coburn and his family. Plus, it leaves me free to pursue any leads to find William Braden."
"He could be anywhere by now," Carl pointed out.
"Without a direction, where would he go?" Johnny asked. "When are you going to see Gerald?"
"This afternoon, after the DA's office files their petition. Want to come with me?"
"Yeah. I do."
Two days later, Johnny was in the kitchen when JJ called out from the living room. "Dad! You gotta see this!"
JJ was standing in the living room, watching the TV, and the urgency in his oldest son's voice caused him to enter the room without thinking about his actions, to look at the big screen tv.
"What?" he asked, falling silent as images of Federal Marshals flanking a slightlly disheveled Laurence Nelson filled the screen. Rachel, sitting nearby, turned up the volume.
"US Marshals arrested attorney Laurence Nelson for tax evasion and filing false documents," the announcer explained. "Mr. Nelson is running for state senate, and released a statement that he was not going to end his campaign, insisting that he had done nothing wrong."
"Are they going to try him for the woman's murder, Johnny?"
"After the IRS gets done with him, probably. The DA has all of the evidence that we collected, so it's in his hands now."
"Well, at least Mr. Coburn is out of prison and back with his family," JJ pointed out.
Johnny smiled, remembering the scene as Gerald had first seen his children for the first time in almost a year. The smile faded slightly as he realized where he was. But with the kids and his mother in the room, he wasn't as focused on what had happened here.
Maybe, just maybe, it would be ok.
"So, since the case is finished, are you going back to work?" Rachel asked.
"Would you be upset if I didn't?" he asked her.
"It's up to you," she pointed out. "Whatever makes you happy." She paused, as if searching for the right words. "I don't think you have been happy for a few years."
Johnny exhaled, and said, "Come here," he said, extending an arm toward her. Giving her a hug, he said, "No, I don't think I was. Not with my job, anyway. It looks like I'll be doing some private investigation work for your Uncle Carl - and a little on my own. I think I want to try to help people who haven't been helped through - other channels."
Rachel gave him a hug. "Love you, Daddy."
"Love you, Princess."
Noise from the stairs alerted them to Henry's appearance. "Hey," Johnny said as the boy rounded the corner into the room. "What's so urgent?"
Henry was holding a piece of paper in his hand. "This."
Johnny scanned the printed page. "Where-?" he questioned.
"Mom always backed up her files to the cloud. I set up the computer to save anything she was working on to the harddrive, and upload it to the cloud for back up, then delete the file on the hard drive. You were right that she knew."
"What is it, Johnny?" his mother asked.
"Mr. and Mrs. Braden's address," he said. Taking out his phone, he dialed George's number as he moved out of the living room, heading toward the front door. "George, I have an address for you..."
George hung up the phone, looking at Johnny. "They're warned. And Maria's contacting the local police to make sure they're aware of the situation. We've done all we can, Johnny."
"Don't thank us. Henry found the information. Our IT guys were still trying to get into the file without destroying it. Smart kid."
"Yeah, he is," Johnny agreed.
"We found some more information in Dr. Ellingham's computer. He kept an electronic journal- He did teach Braden how to drive, and about computers. All with an idea that they would be partners after Braden got out of Smithson. They were going to travel, with the house as their base of operations. He had collected a lot of cash toward that end, so Braden probably has it with him."
"Most likely. Any report about the car or Ellingham's credit cards?"
"Ellingham didn't have any. As for the car, we still have a bulletin out on it."
"Keep me informed, okay?"
As he went through the squad room, Johnny found himself glad that Andy wasn't at his desk. He'd call later, talk to his former partner. As it was, several others either glared at Johnny or studiously ignored his presence. Most likely they had heard about his part in finding the witness to clear Gerald Coburn.
The door to Capt. Carrington's office was open, so he knocked on the doorframe. She looked up from the papers she had been reading and smiled. "Johnny. Come in. Have a seat."
"You've been busy," she noted.
Johnny shrugged. "I figure getting the truth was important."
"It was. We dropped the ball." She indicated the papers on her desk. "We've been instructed to go over the case files for the last year to see if there might have been other cases." She smiled. "So I hope you're here to tell me you're ready to come back to work."
"I'm sorry, Captain. I'll be filing the official paperwork next week to take early retirement."
"So you've made up your mind not to come back to the force."
"I need to do something that I have a little more control over. Being there for the kids is important."
"I understand. How are you doing?" she asked, her eyes examining his face.
"One day at a time."
"I have to ask for your shield and weapon -"
Johnny pulled both out and put them on her desk. "There you go."
"What are your plans?" she asked.
"I'm going private," he told her.
"And I suppose you're going to keep looking for William Braden?"
Johnny got up from the chair and moved toward the window that looked onto the street three stories down. "He's out there, somewhere," Johnny said. "And until he's found, no one is safe."