Authors: Evan Ronan
The District Attorney hated new cars.
Cornelius Spencer, Yukon to his friends, wanted a cigarette but most new cars, like his wife’s Mercedes, didn’t install cigarette lighters anymore. You could watch DVDs, plug in your iPod, make dinner reservations, look up a word in the dictionary, spy through the video cam mounted on the rear bumper, warm your ass to a balmy eighty degrees, or get directions to the fucking moon, but cigarette lighters were going to cost you extra either as an option or aftermarket accessory.
Spencer was last to arrive at the party. Ross was waiting for him on the front stoop.
“How is it?” Spencer asked.
Ross smiled, a bit condescendingly for Spencer’s tastes. “You’ve got a five point lead with thirty seconds to play, and the other squad is out of timeouts.”
Ross walked him through the house. First, the kitchen. “We think it started in here. Most domestic squabbles do. Somebody’s pissed off about having to do the dishes again, they flip out about something else, and boom you’ve got the makings of a fight.”
Spencer noted the shattered dishes, looked for the blood but didn’t see any.
Ross led him into the den. “You’re looking at a shoving match that escalates. Look here. The couch is off its grooves. The sliding glass door is cracked, TV is smashed. They did the ugly dance through here.”
“Mr. Ketcher was drunk?”
Ross nodded. “Already talked to his buddies. They’re still at the bar. Told us all about how much Anson had to drink. Bartender remembers him being loud too.”
“We Mirandize him more than once?”
“First thing I ordered.”
“I knew I liked you for a reason.”
Ross continued. “Alice gets her hands on the phone, manages to dial 911. The call connects but she and Anson must still be fighting. She drops the phone and it ends up under the sofa. Decision point. Either she goes for the phone or she gets out of the house. She does the smart thing and leaves the phone.”
Spencer nodded. So far, so good. It fit all the facts as he knew them, though he didn’t like Ross being presumptuous enough to connect the dots for him. It was up to him, as the prosecutor, to build a case that could be sold to the jury. Ross was a good cop but Spencer was the lawyer here.
Spencer said, “This reeks of heat of the moment. If he’d planned to do this, he would have had a plausible defense lined up.”
“I don’t think Mensa is going to ask Anson to join anytime soon.”
Spencer shook his head. “Nobody’s that dumb. No rational man would plan to use that as a defense. That means he had no plan. No plan means no premeditation. No premeditation, it’s not a capital case.”
Ross’s lip twitched. “That’s all backwards. You’re saying Anson won’t get death because his defense is weak?”
Spencer didn’t remember asking Ross for his opinion on the legal matter. “I’m putting myself in the defense’s shoes. All they need is reasonable doubt. I’m the one has to climb the mountain.”
Ross said, “Look at all her money. Look at the couple’s history.”
Spencer shook his head no. “Mr. Ketcher doesn’t see one red cent unless he’s acquitted. And he won’t be. Not with that defense. But even if it somehow worked for him, you can be sure as shit the Towsons will go the civil route. If I don’t get him, they’ll get him with wrongful death. Burden of proof is lower in civil court. Bye-bye money.”
“You give the guy too much credit if you think he planned that far ahead.”
“Let’s see the body.”
Ross led him down a long hallway, past a bathroom, into a family room filled with paintings. Used drop cloths covered most of the furniture and the hardwood floor.
Four guys from the crime lab worked the room. They moved out of Ross’s way so the cop and the prosecutor could see the body on the floor.
Spencer had seen murder vics before but it always turned his stomach. Alice’s face looked like a slab of bruised meat. One eye was swollen shut, the other half open. Her neck appeared both bloated and shrunk.
“Broken neck,” Ross said. “That requires a lot of force. Somebody grabbed her and twisted her neck.”
Spencer checked the area around the victim. One easel had been knocked over, a painting face-down on the floor. Signs of a struggle everywhere.
He’d seen enough. He motioned for Ross to follow him out of the house. “We’re positively certain nobody else was in this house?”
“As certain as we can be. My guys will keep looking.”
Spencer grew thoughtful. “Assume somebody else did this. Who would Mr. Ketcher take a fall for?”
Ross frowned. “He wouldn’t take a fall for somebody killing his own wife. And nobody else would do this. Alice was a saint. Anson’s the one that’s hated. The guys at the bar are only drinking buddies. The only real friend he’s got is Giles Tyson.”
Spencer chuckled. “Perfect. The last person anybody would want as a character witness right now is that quack.”
The two men shared a professional laugh. Then Spencer nodded at the detective.
“Nice work here. Your boy is working on the police report?”
Ross checked his watch. “It’ll be done soon.”
“Did you talk to Mr. Ketcher yet?”
“Waiting to see how you wanted to play it.”
“I’m staying away until he asks for a lawyer. Let’s play it silky. You ease him along.”
Spencer started to walk away then remembered something. “You got a light?”
“Neither do I apparently.” Spencer was about to leave but another car pulled into the mouth of the long driveway.
“Shit. That must be him,” Ross said.
Spencer and Ross shared a look. It was never fun having to deal with the vic’s parents.
Ross barked orders at the patrolmen to keep the civilian away from the house. Spencer headed for the SUV to cut the man off at the pass.
Councilman Towson left the engine running and jumped out of the car. His voice was full of anguish. “Is my daughter in there?”
Spencer and Ross met him on the lawn with the other patrolmen. It took five people to hold the councilman back.
It was almost three AM when Ross entered the interrogation room. Anson sat facing the two-way mirror, his hands cuffed and folded on the table.
Ross shut the door and sat opposite.
Anson’s face was bruised. His hair was a mess. His eyes were red like he’d been crying. He smelled of sweat and cigarettes and alcohol, even though he was stone cold sober by now.
“It was the ghost,” Anson said.
Ross regarded the man. He’d questioned plenty of suspects over the years and could spot a lie pretty well.
And that was why he was convinced Anson had lost his mind. Because Anson didn’t look like he was lying. Either he’d mastered the art of deception in his spare time or he didn’t think he was lying.
If Anson believed the words that were coming out of his mouth, that meant he’d gone off the deep end.
The important question was when. Before, during, or after the murder?
Sorting that out would involve the lawyers, the shrinks, the judge. If Anson flipped his lid before or during the murder, the DA could expect an insanity plea. If Anson had checked out after the deed, the defense would argue that Anson wasn’t competent to stand trial. That wasn’t an acquittal but it would cause plenty of problems.
Ross didn’t like either scenario.
“Anson, you’ve been read your rights twice now. Do you understand them?”
“Is that a yes?”
Ross produced a police form. The Miranda rights were printed across the top. Ross put the paper in front of Anson and held out a pen. “Could you do me a favor and sign this sheet? It’s just your acknowledgement that you’ve been Mirandized and understand what’s going on.”
Anson didn’t even bother to read the pre-printed form. Just quickly signed his name.
“You were drinking earlier this evening. We’ve given you a couple of breathalyzers and now you’re under the legal limit.”
Anson said nothing.
“Do you feel impaired in any way?”
Anson shook his head.
“Is that a no?”
“I’m not drunk.”
Ross nodded. Took the paper back from Anson and folded it and put it in his pocket.
“Now tell me what happened.”
“I didn’t…” Anson’s voice faded and he started weeping. “It was the ghost.”
In his twenty-plus year career, Ross had heard it all. He didn’t think he could be surprised anymore. Anson proved him wrong. The man was going to proceed with this ridiculous story.
Ross let him cry for a moment. “Tell me about the ghost.”
Anson sat up in his chair, folded his hands. His eyes glued to the table.
“Anson, tell me what happened.”
Ross folded his hands, matching Anson’s posture. It was an old trick, handed down to him by the detective who’d shown him the ropes. The social scientists called it mirroring. Most people did it subconsciously. Ross did it to show Anson he wasn’t hostile and wanted to foster cooperation. Which was bullshit, but if it worked, it worked.
Anson sniffed and wiped under his eyes. “Alice felt it first, about six months ago. We didn’t know what to do. I wanted to bring somebody out to the house but she didn’t want word getting around. She was very religious. I mean, we both are. It was tough for her to accept.”
Ross said nothing.
Anson said, “I wanted to have Giles Tyson over, but she didn’t want that getting out either. With Alice being who she was, our relationship was always the talk of the town. Last thing she needed with all our…other problems so public.”
“You and Giles Tyson are friends, right?”
Anson nodded. “She spoke to our pastor, Jim Grohmann. He gave her the party line, that there were no ghosts and that if she continued to have these experiences, she needed to speak to a doctor.”
“What did she do?”
“She started to doubt herself and wanted to see a doctor. I told her not to because I believed her and by then, I’d felt something.”
Ross was a pro. He kept the skepticism out of his voice. “What did you feel?”
“It was like electricity. She was better than me, but sometimes I could feel it too.”
Anson sat forward. Ross matched him.
Anson said, “We…argued. I wanted to bring somebody professional in, like Giles. But then that show aired, you know the one where he got discredited?”
“So then Alice really didn’t want him over. She worried about appearances and what other people would say and what the church would think. But we weren’t getting anywhere. And it was starting to scare Alice. She wondered if maybe we were both losing our minds…she wasn’t thinking clearly and it was affecting her work so I…”
Anson looked away for a moment. “I talked to Giles about it. Told him to keep it between us. He hadn’t worked in months and was dying to help…I felt bad for him. He was my friend going back to high school, the only guy who’d always been there, even when I did stupid shit.”
“You had him over?”
Anson met Ross’s eyes. “Yeah. I waited till Alice was out of the house. She used to do those spinning classes all the way over in Middleton. With the drive and the class, I knew she’d be gone two hours. I had Giles over then. He did his thing and was able to get the ghost to visit. He told me we had nothing to worry about, that the spirit wasn’t dangerous. But it was unlike anything he’d ever encountered, so he wanted to come back. I thought it would help Alice to know there was nothing bad about the ghost so I was going to break it to her that I’d had Giles over…but she came home early that day. She’d skipped her class to do a quick routine at the gym instead.”
Anson lowered his eyes. Ross waited.
“We got into it after Giles left, but I didn’t touch her.”
“Did you ever?”
Anson hesitated. “No. I never hit her. I…scared her a few times, I’m sure. I got a bad temper.” He looked up. “I know that doesn’t sound good, but that’s exactly why I’m telling you. I’m trying to cooperate and I’m going to tell you everything so you see I’m not guilty. I didn’t kill my wife. I loved Alice. Oh God…”
He descended into blubbering tears again. This time, Ross didn’t wait so long. He was a patient man but still he had his limits. A good woman was dead and it was nearing four AM.
“What happened next?”
Anson wiped under his nose and got himself under control. “We argued. Any time the subject came up or the ghost visited us, we bickered. There was a distance between us that had never been there before. She’d leave the house for stretches and not tell me where she was going. I figured she was going to talk to the pastor because that’s where she always went for help, but I never asked. I feared if I pushed too hard she’d leave.
“And the spirit visited more and more. It started coming at all times and…” Anson seemed to be thinking real hard here. “…it got worse, you know? Like erratic and aggressive.”
Ross had had enough of this bullshit but he kept his cool. “How did its behavior change? Give me some examples.”
It was the easiest way to spot a lie. If the subject couldn’t contextualize what they were saying, they were full of shit.
“Before it would show up once a week, stay for a few minutes. After Giles’s visit, it showed up almost every day, sometimes more than once a day. But it would only visit for a minute, sometimes less. It was like it was agitated. Or like it wanted to stay but couldn’t. I don’t know. It drove Alice mad. She couldn’t get anything done around the house or with her painting. She’d started leaving the house for even longer stretches.
“Then, two weeks ago, I came home from work early and found all the windows of the house open and the house smelled weird. Like she’d used incense. Before I could ask any questions, Alice said she’d just wanted to air the place out because it was a nice day and she’d burned some candles. We had a big fight and I stormed off. That night, I found these tiny ashes in random places in the house…I don’t know what they were but I figured they were from the candles that Alice had burned.
“Finally I told Alice that we were so bad off that we had nothing to lose by asking for Giles’s help—things couldn’t get worse. She still feared the public perception and what it would do to her in the church but after a week or so, she reluctantly agreed.
“Giles came out and attempted to summon the spirit. That’s when things got crazy. The spirit came and went a dozen times in the span of two hours. And Giles was…affected. He was exhausted like it had taken a huge toll on him. We ended the session without having figured anything out, but Giles wasn’t discouraged. If anything, just the opposite. He left excited, asked to come back.
“But Alice told him no.”
Ross said, “Why?”
“She thought he was just making it worse. And she’d never liked him really. She didn’t want him around anymore.”
“But what did you decide to do about it?”
Anson shook his head. “We couldn’t decide on anything. We weren’t communicating. The spirit visited more and more. It was showing up every two or three hours, almost like clockwork. Alice couldn’t take it. She’d contacted her realtor, said we needed to move. I told her we needed Giles’s help. She wanted her pastor to come and do an exorcism. She was gone the whole next day. We didn’t speak for a couple days after. Then last night, I was so fired up that I left the house and decided to have a few beers. I needed something to take the edge off.”
“Then what happened?”
“After I got home, it visited us again, and…you know the rest. I already told you guys.”
Ross stood and went to the door. “Anson, you’re not telling us everything. I want to know what really happened last night.”
“Why would I make this up? Why would I tell you this crazy story when I know no one’s going to believe me?”
“Double bluff, Anson.”
Anson wasn’t familiar with the term. He kept talking. “It’s the truth. I could have made up a million more plausible stories but I want to cooperate.”
“Then start cooperating.” Ross closed the door.