(NOTE: If you feel like sharing the story with someone, or refreshing your memory, then use the Table of Contents. Thanks for reading.)
Jim Gaither sat up in bed, wondering. What if I had stood up to the mystery man and immediately called for help? Would Frank Shaeffer have survived? Frank’s kids were grown and out of the house already, but his wife was devastated. He was a few years from retirement, and they had managed their money well enough that they could finish out their years piling miles on their RV.
How had Frank put it? ‘If I don’t have a good time, it’s not my fault, it’s not the RV’s fault. It’s the asphalt.’
Jim said aloud, “I heard him breathing. My God. I heard him breathing and I didn’t help him. I’m such a coward.”
The prostitute lying beside him did not stir.
“I helped that man kill him. What kind of man am I? I’m a sniveling mass of shit. But he said he would hurt my wife and kids. What was I supposed to do? Put another man before my own family? Maybe the cops could have helped if I had reported it right away. But I don’t even know who he was. Does he know I told the cops about him? Shit.”
The prostitute grunted.
Jim had sent his wife and kids away to his cousin’s house to keep them safe. In a strange expression of relief, he had found a hooker and checked into a cheap motel under an assumed name. His adultery had been a problem for years. He had an overactive appetite for sex and, particularly, the kind he saw in adult films.
It had started when he was 11, looking at Playboy magazines with a friend whose father kept them out in the open. At 13, he found a stash of videos in his own father’s closet, in a Styrofoam cooler under a stack of pillows. Because he was a latchkey kid and his sister usually went to her boyfriend’s house after school, he had plenty of time to enjoy them alone. To that point and the next few years after that, he was not unlike many other boys his age. Boys will be boys, and toys were made for playing.
Then, at age 15 on an overnight trip with a church group, he had taken a dangerous step outside that boundary. Tired of hearing of friends’ escapades with girls and their generous mouths, he had slinked away from the group’s viewing of the blindly selected Heaven Help Us and paid a young woman to give him special treatment. She did what he asked and more, and instantly he was addicted.
He never had a regular girlfriend in high school or college. He saved his allowance and his summer job earnings for car payments and trips to see Little Rock’s finest. At 60 miles distant, it was the nearest place he knew to find whores.
Oddly, he tried to be romantic with them. He read them sonnets by his favorite writer, Shakespeare. They all listened, sometimes intently, often with indifference, then showed him pleasures he only thought possible in movies.
His own mortality, and something Shakespeare had written, had made Jim want to start a family. Shakespeare had promised a mistress that she would live on through his written words. Jim wanted to live forever, but he was not a writer, so he would make children. Lacking any belief in an afterlife, he saw kids as his only shot at enabling at least a part of himself to go on after his death.
He met his wife, Pam, at a college party. She was fairly well-versed in the bedroom arts, as well as the backseat arts, and interested in having kids, so he thought he had found the perfect woman for him. They married within four months and in two years had their first child.
He still craved the sexual variety his dollars had purchased before he met Pam. With guilt almost too heavy to bear, he again dipped a toe in the pool of prostitution. Finding the water warm and inviting, he jumped in and soon found himself too far out to reach the sides. He had avoided seeking help, for fear that claiming it on his company’s health plan would somehow tip off management and get him fired.
On advice from her mother, and not knowing the true depth of his addiction, Pam had overlooked his cheating for the sake of the kids. Now, they were old enough that even one slip would reveal his secret.
“I’m shit. Complete shit. In the face of death, a man will see his true self. I helped kill a man, and then I lied about it. Is that my true self? Now I’ve sent my family away and jumped in bed with a complete stranger. Again.”
He stared at his reflection in the motel mirror and imagined guilt eating away the man who stared back at him. “Who are you?” he asked. Then he sobbed.
The prostitute rolled over. “Whatsa matter, baby? Want me to suck you off? Every John I meet, that stops his crying.”
“Thanks, but that won’t do it this time.”
This guilt could not be pleasured away. Another man’s blood was on his hands.
Wall visited the District Attorney’s office. The prosecutor for the case was Leigh Creswell, one of Wall’s college classmates who got admitted to law school on the first try. He knew she was smart with books, but never found her very good at thinking on her feet. Now, on her back, that’s a different story. He smiled at this internal joke. They had dated for a while, and he owed some of his private talents to his time with her.
Leigh and Wendy had been sorority sisters, and after breaking Wall’s heart, Leigh introduced them.
He stood there trying to determine whether the ficus tree next to him was real. He looked at the spot where the leaves attach to the branches — always the giveaway. “Fake,” he muttered.
From the look of things, nobody had time to worry with watering plants. Legal clerks bustled about the office — copying, faxing, and filing documents. Everyone looked like stress was getting to them.
Creswell emerged from her office. It seemed to Wall that she got less attractive each time he saw her. Her black hair looked frayed, and her contrasting, pasty face had little life, as if she literally had poured it into her job. She did not say a word as she waved him toward her door. He walked into her office and sat down as she shut the door behind her.
She hurried to her desk, but remained standing as she read Wall’s report. “You said on the phone that this –“
She took a closer look. “This, Jeff Stivins makes you suspicious.”
“Yeah, but with no motive, I have only the evidence and Gaither’s story. We all know people make up stories, and he already admitted to it once. All we have is the forensics report and that the blood on Gaither’s shirt definitely was Shaeffer’s. Still, what we have doesn’t make Gaither a lock for this,” Wall said.
“I understand that, Detective, but the news has made it a front-page story, at a very bad time for our office. Larry Jegley just decided to turn this state legislature money laundering scandal over to the U.S. Attorney’s office, and it’s killing us. We think going ahead with a case against Gaither is warranted,” Creswell said.
She held up the coroner’s report. “Maxwell mentions skin and blood on the heel of the victim’s shoe. What do we have on that?”
“Gaither didn’t have any marks on his legs at all. It doesn’t look like he took any defensive kicks during a struggle.”
“I didn’t want to risk something being thrown out if I searched him without a warrant. We didn’t get to talk to him much before he clammed up and asked for an attorney. His lawyer told us he would not be talking to us any more without some compelling reason.”
“So, we compel him. I will get you a search warrant,” Creswell said.
“But you just said you wanted to go after Gaither.”
“Dammit.” She sighed heavily and sat down. “I just need a minute to gather my thoughts, Wall.”
Wall? He could not remember the last time she called him that, and it made her seem vulnerable. She might not be good at making quick decisions, but she was decent and fair. As much as he could for one of the strongest women he knew, he felt sorry for her. Trial law, especially murder cases, might have been more than her constitution could take.
“Wow, you haven’t called me that in a long time.”
“I wasn’t trying to reach out or anything. I’m just under a lot of pressure right now.”
“Whatever. I can sit here a few minutes. Just let me know when you’re ready, Leigh-Leigh.” He felt bad the minute he said it.
She made a sound that was half chuckle, half grunt. It had barely enough breath behind it to escape her lips.
“What about alibi?” she asked.
“Neither guy has one. Getting to work earlier than everybody else is nothing new to them, though, so that point got us nowhere.”
“Okay, so they’re even on flimsy alibi. Dammit. Your feeling on this Stivins guy is pretty strong?”
“Yep. I don’t use words like ‘diabolical’ very much, but I can picture his face as the definition.”
(continue to Part 9)