Authors: Evan Ronan
“You mean the writing on the wall?” Towson looked nervously at the DA.
“Yes. Were you aware of what happened during the initial paranormal investigation prior to the house being burned down?”
Towson frowned. “Yes.”
Eddie wondered how far Green would go or if he’d let the jury connect the dots.
“And in your opinion, was the writing on the wall damaging to Anson’s defense?”
Billy thought about it. “I guess so.”
“And after that writing came to light, the house burned down?”
Green stared at him for a moment. “Now back to the night of Mrs. Ketcher’s death. In your earlier testimony, you said you attacked Anson. Does that mean you hit him?”
“Yes. Like I said it was wrong of me and I was put on administrative leave and slowly worked back into the patrol rotation.”
“How many times did you hit him?”
“It was a fight. I wasn’t counting.”
“Was it really a fight?”
Billy frowned. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Did Anson hit you back?”
“He protected himself.”
“Is that a no?”
“The fight only lasted a few seconds. If it hadn’t, he would have tried to hit me, I’m sure of it.”
“So you’re saying that Anson didn’t even try to hit you?”
“It all happened so fast…I don’t...”
“You don’t what, Officer?”
“Look. It was a fight. It was over fast. I don’t remember every single thing about it.”
“You’re telling me you don’t remember if Anson tried to hit you or not?”
“No…I don’t remember.”
“Strange, I’d think you’d remember if another man tried to hit you.”
“Objection. Your Honor, Officer Towson has answered the question several times now.”
Green didn’t even pause before his next question. “Mrs. Ketcher’s neck was broken, wasn’t it?”
Billy frowned. “Yes, that’s what Dr. Han told me.”
“Do you know how to break a neck?”
Billy shook his head. “I don’t.”
“But you’re trained how to fight, right? You’re a police officer.”
“I am but I never learned how to do that. I think that’s a very advanced technique.”
“It takes a lot of training then, doesn’t it?”
Billy looked at Green sideways. “I guess…I don’t have a black belt.”
“Did Anson have any martial arts training to your knowledge?”
“And yet you think he broke Mrs. Ketcher’s neck?”
“There was no one else there, and no damned ghost killed my cousin.”
Green smiled. “I’m confused, Officer. You say Anson broke Mrs. Ketcher’s neck, so he must have had some expertise in fighting and yet, when you confronted him that night, he didn’t even try to fight back. Can you explain that?”
“I can’t tell you what that man was thinking. Maybe he was tough around the ladies but scared of men.”
Green shook his head. “But surely you’re familiar with Anson’s arrest record, are you not?”
Eddie couldn’t believe it. Green was actually going to use Anson’s history of violence to suggest the man’s innocence. Only a lawyer would try that, and Eddie thought that Green might just be good enough to pull it off.
“Then you’re aware of his charges for assault and battery and all the bar fights he’s been in over the years. Were any of these violent outbursts directed at women?”
Green kept going. “So he fought men, many of them bigger than him, isn’t that right?”
“I don’t remember the size of these other guys, how can you expect me to?”
“And didn’t one of those fights start because Anson believed that the other man was
threatening a lady
Towson hesitated too long for his answer to be credible. “I don’t remember the details of his fights … you know, there were a lot of them.”
Green gave Billy a contemptuous look. “I have nothing further.”
The DA went on re-direct and got Billy to harp on the fact that there was no evidence of a third-party in the house and that the other vehicle was irrelevant given what Anson had told them during and after his arrest. The DA also had the opportunity to question Billy about Anson’s prior history of violence, now that Green had opened that door. But on the whole, Green had cut Billy down. It wasn’t enough for an acquittal but it was something.
Detective Ross watched as Billy stormed out of the courthouse. Ross hopped out of his car and flagged the kid down.
“Fucking lawyers. Fucking Green,” Billy said.
“Breathe. Tell me what happened.”
Billy did. Ross put a hand on the kid’s shoulder. “Forget about it. No matter what you say, a lawyer will twist it. It happens to me every time I take the stand and I’ve been doing it twenty plus years.”
“He started asking me about the fucking car.” Billy’s face was bright red. “Who gives a fucking shit about the fucking car? Why would we fucking follow up on it when Anson’s screaming about a ghost? Fucking lawyers. And then he asked what I was doing the day the house burned down, like I fucking had anything to do with it.”
“You remember what kind of car it was?” Ross asked. “I know you didn’t get a great look at it.”
“It wasn’t a truck or SUV, I can tell you that. Looked sort of like a wagon.”
“A station wagon?”
“Yeah, sort of. Maybe it was one of those hybrids? I haven’t thought too much about it since because it’s irrelevant.”
Ross thought about that. “Are you on-duty tonight?”
Billy shook his head.
Ross handed him a twenty. “Then buy a few drinks on me. Job well done.”
* * * *
Eddie woke early the next day and went for a run to clear his mind. Today was the day. Green expected the DA to rest before lunch. After that, the defense would call its witnesses. Green was still toying with the notion of putting Anson himself on the stand, but either way, Eddie would be the main attraction.
He ran at a good clip for fifteen minutes, then turned around and tried to run the same distance in fourteen minutes. He was winded after twelve-and-a-half and walked the rest of the way to his motel. Officer Thieler sat in her cruiser outside his room with the window down.
“I love a woman in uniform,” he said.
“Morning, Mr. McCloskey. Are you ready for your testimony?”
“Not in the least.”
She laughed. He realized he hadn’t heard her laugh before. She said, “How about breakfast?”
“How about dinner tonight followed by a late night snack and breakfast tomorrow?”
“I thought you were leaving as soon as you were done with the trial.”
“I could be persuaded otherwise.”
She held his gaze. “Let’s see how breakfast goes.”
* * * *
The diner was fifteen minutes up the road, farther from the county seat. She ordered an omelet. He ordered pancakes and touched them up with a little syrup but didn’t overdo it because his stomach was already in knots. Last thing he needed was to trombone on the witness stand. Wouldn’t do much for his credibility.
“What do you want out of life?” she asked between bites.
“Wow. Couldn’t we start off with something easier, like my shoe size?”
“You’re leaving soon. We don’t have time for that kind of slow burn.”
Je ne sais pas
“Oh, one of those.”
“I’m a simple man. I want to keep doing what I do and get better at it. And I want to be able to pay the bills.”
“You don’t expect that kind of honesty from men about money.”
He shrugged. He wasn’t embarrassed.
Becky said, “If you believe my last three boyfriends, they all made six figures.”
She said, “There has to be more to it than that.”
“Why does everybody sneer at a successful businessman, like it’s the dirtiest, basest pursuit in the world?”
“So you’re saying you’re just after money?”
“Not just.” He gave her an ironic smile. “You’re telling me you’d turn down a raise?”
Eddie studied her. “What are you having, a quarter-life crisis?”
She wiped her mouth with a napkin, looked at him. “Yes, and it’s hell. Know thyself and all that.”
“You’ll figure it out.”
“Statistics. Most people do eventually.”
“You’re reducing me to a number?”
“I’m saying it’s more likely you’re like everybody else who ever lived and figured it out.”
“You sure are a romantic.”
“You sure are a ball-buster.”
She laughed. “I have a new big idea every five minutes. That’s my problem. You know last week I wanted to apply to medical school?”
“You should go for it. It’s only, what, six months to become a doctor?”
“Funny. Then yesterday, I was talking to Detective Ross and I was so impressed by how much he knew that I was recommitted to the job.”
“For what it’s worth…you look great in a uniform.”
She laughed again. “You don’t like cops.”
“It’s not that. I don’t like assholes.”
She made a face. “Most of us are good people. Hard-working, family-oriented. It’s just like any other profession. Some treat it like a nine-to-five gig but others, the really good ones, treat it like a calling.”
“I’ve had a few good friends that were cops. I’ve earned the begrudging respect of a few more too. Then there’s you.”
“I wonder what a woman like you would want to do with a guy like me.”
“Maybe nothing at all.”
Eddie smiled because he knew it wasn’t true. “Were you an English major?”
“Double major. English and French. So I already know the puerile philosophy of
cherchez la femme
and you can’t impress me with any Voltaire quotes and please,
pour l’amour de Dieu
, no Balzac jokes.”
“I wouldn’t dare. You’re way too sophisticated a lady for that. And besides, I prefer Hugo and Dumas to Balzac.”
“Of course you do, because they’re safe choices. Hugo was drowning in melodrama and there’s not one honest moment in any of his endings, and Dumas was nothing but a commercial hack whose collaborator, Auguste Maquet, did all the heavy lifting.”
“It’s kind of cute when you get all Snobby McSnobby.”
“I’m serious. Hugo for the most part and Dumas across the board wrote tripe—”
“I think you just like the name Balzac.”
“Hey! I said no jokes.”
“In terms of the Romantics, Hugo was the best. And Dumas … I mean Jesus every few years a new musketeer movie comes out. Both men have left a far more lasting impact on culture than Balzac. Don’t be such a cynic. It’s okay to like something more than five people have read.”
“What’d you major in?”
“I got a BS in BS.”
Eddie shook his head. “Wasn’t in the proverbial cards. But I read all the time.”
“Can you read me?” She gave him one of those cute looks.
“You’re in some beautiful ancient language that I haven’t learned yet.”
“You’re really swinging for the fences.”
“When you do you only have to connect once.” Eddie checked the time on his cell. “I’ve gotta hit the old dusty trail.”
“Last chance, Mr. Ghost Hunter. You can still leave before you have to testify.”
“I made a promise and…”
“And I want to see what happens. I want to understand.”
She looked at him like he’d gone batty.
He said, “How about we talk after the trial?”
She batted her eyelashes. “You never know with me. Tomorrow I might be in medical school.”
“Tell me one thing. How did a gal like you end up with that job in a place like this?”
“Easy, silly rabbit. I grew up here.”
Eddie laughed. “So long, Officer. I hope we have dinner tonight.”
* * * *
Eddie sat in the bench behind the defense counsel’s table rather than in the back. He wanted a better view of the proceedings. Gracie and her team did the same and sat behind the DA. Councilman Towson and his wife sat in the row behind Gracie.
The members of the court performed the same ritual, rising for the judge, sitting when told. Then the judge told the DA to proceed with his case.
Spencer called Han, the ME, to the stand. Dr. Han was in his mid-thirties and wore a short-sleeved dress shirt and tie and had a buzz cut. He was sworn in and took his seat in the witness box.
The DA asked the ME to summarize his background to the jury. Han explained that he’d studied forensic science as an undergrad then went on to medical school. He’d been working crime scene investigation ever since. Han had a nasally, academic voice.
“Were you able to determine a cause of death for Mrs. Ketcher?” Spencer said.
“And that was?”
“In laymen’s terms, Mrs. Ketcher’s neck was broken. As a result of the severe spinal cord injury, her blood pressure dropped quickly and then her brain ceased to function as a result. She probably died very quickly.”
The DA went to the computer on his desk. “Your Honor, I would like to refer to the crime scene photos now so Dr. Han can explain his findings.”
Eddie waited for Green to object, but the lawyer didn’t move a muscle. Spencer clicked a few buttons and the first photo appeared on the projector next to the witness stand. Several groans and turned heads from the jury.
The picture was a close-up of Alice’s neck.
“Dr. Han, would you explain to the jury how you arrived at your conclusions and please refer to the photographs if necessary.”
Han stood in the box and pointed to the purplish marks on Alice’s distended neck. “The bruising here and the odd shape of the neck is the first clue.”
One juror put a hand over her mouth like she was going to barf.
Han continued. “I took an x-ray that confirmed the break in the spinal cord in the cervical spine—I mean the neck.”
The DA went to the next slide. “Is this the x-ray you’re talking about?”
“Yes, that’s it. The break is obvious in this picture.”
“Now is there any way, based upon the physical evidence, that the break in Alice’s neck could have been caused by a fall, or by her hitting her head?”
“No. It was a very clean break, and there was no physical evidence at the scene to suggest anything other than the intentional act of a third party.”
“What do you mean by clean break?”
“It requires a significant amount of force applied in the correct way to break a neck. The person who did this to Mrs. Ketcher had to be fairly strong and was probably taller than her.”
“I see. And how tall was Mrs. Ketcher?”
“She was five-six.”
Eddie watched as the jurors’ eyes all tracked to Anson. Not a good sign.
The DA asked a string of clarifying questions then reserved his right to redirect. Green stood up.
“Dr. Han, is it easy to break a person’s neck?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“Well you just said it requires a significant amount of force and a basic knowledge of the procedure to execute the maneuver. Is that correct?”
“So it requires certain skills?”
“I guess you could say that, though brute strength probably makes up for a lack of precision.”
“In your opinion, would the average man with no military, self-defense, or martial arts training know how to break a neck?”
“Objection. That goes beyond Dr. Han’s expertise,” the DA said.
Judge Metnick pondered it for a moment. “I agree, it is beyond his area of expertise. Objection sustained.”
Green didn’t bristle. He just went for the next question. “Dr. Han, I’ve read your report. It’s very thorough and detailed. But there is one thing not in the report I’d like to know. Was the killer right- or left-handed?”
Han kept his voice level. “The killer used both hands. I don’t think anybody could break a neck with one.”
A ripple of laughter in the jury box.
Green smiled. “I understand that, Dr. Han. As you explained in your report, this neck break was done from the front, with one hand primarily twisting and the other primarily stabilizing, I believe was your word. So the maneuver requires both hands, but based upon the direction of this break, can’t you tell which hand the killer used as the primary twister?”
“I can make an educated guess but then you can’t necessarily deduce from that the killer’s dexterity. They could have used their dominant hand as the stabilizer for all we know.”
“But when a person has to exert a lot of force with their arms, don’t they naturally use their dominant side to do it?”
“More often than not, I’d say yes. But that’s why I say we’d be guessing.”
“But wouldn’t such a guess be educated, based upon your experience?”
Han paused. “Perhaps.”
“Then, based upon your experience, would you say it was more likely the killer was left-handed based upon the nature of this break?”