Authors: Evan Ronan
“Let’s be clear on expectations here. I can’t prove a ghost did this. All I can hope to do is plant reasonable doubt and that won’t be easy.”
Green’s cell rang. The lawyer took out his smart phone. “Denard Green.”
Eddie gave the lawyer some space and walked to Giles, who leaned on the mantel of the fireplace. “You believe Ketcher?”
“Yes. But there are some things you should know about him.”
“Lemme guess. History of violence, right?”
Giles nodded. “But the man was reformed. He had turned himself around.”
Green ended his call and raised his voice. “The judge is going to hear the DA’s motion to exclude paranormal expert testimony this afternoon. I have to get to the courthouse.”
Eddie knew that motions on evidence were usually heard at the end of discovery, right before a jury was picked. “Hold on a minute. When’s the trial start?”
“Week from today,” Giles said.
Eddie shot them both an incredulous look. “Why the hell didn’t you guys call me sooner?”
Green grunted again. “We wasted time trying to convince Anson to take a deal and trying to get the DA to offer one. Both were dead ends.”
“That doesn’t take two weeks.” Eddie flicked a glance at Giles. “You called other investigators before you tried me.”
Giles wasn’t embarrassed in the least. “Only because of your criminal history, Edward. I don’t doubt your competence in the least.”
“Jesus.” Eddie paced to the other side of the room. “He only pleaded two weeks ago.”
Green killed his cigar and left it perched on the ash tray. “This is high-profile. When I told the judge what our defense theory was, he gave us two weeks of discovery. I had to bluff and say we’d work out a deal if he gave us a month and time to work on our client. He thought about it for a few seconds, gave us three weeks. Told us to cut a deal. Judge Metnick runs a tight ship. We expected Anson to change his mind but he hasn’t moved from his position. Now we’ve got a week.”
Eddie hadn’t expected to be on a witness stand so soon. “Ask for an extension.”
Green shook his head no. “Won’t get it.”
“I need more time than a week.”
Green continued as if Eddie hadn’t spoken. “You and I need to prep. The DA will be merciless, will exploit your criminal background, and will make you look a fool if you’re not careful. What do you need to do?”
He laughed. “I need to drop this fucking case like a bad habit.”
Giles spoke up. “Please, Edward, we need your help.”
“I’m not making any promises here. But for starters, I need access to the house and I need to meet with Anson Ketcher pronto.”
“You can’t see Anson without me being present, just a matter of process. I’ll give you a call when we can see him.” Green waddled over and the stench of cigar on his person was overpowering. He put his fat hand on Eddie’s shoulder and looked him dead in the eye, just like he must have stared down all those witnesses for the prosecution during his career.
“He’s a good boy, despite the majority opinion. No one in this town will back him up except Giles and myself. But Anson and I are kin, and he and Giles are friends. Our allegiances undermine our credibility. That leaves us in a difficult position.”
“I appreciate that.” Eddie squirmed out of the man’s grip. “But here’s the deal. Whatever I find, I turn over. Good, bad, ugly, indifferent, doesn’t matter. The DA gets it. I don’t have a horse in this race and I’ve got my reputation to protect. I’m not a lawyer’s hired gun.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything else,” Green said. “Now, about the house, you’d better get over there ASAP. I’ll take my time getting to the courthouse to argue against the DA’s motion and I’ll stall the judge. If you’ve got anything solid, it’ll be more difficult for the judge to exclude it.”
“Green, this is a process. It takes time. I’m not going to find anything in five minutes.”
“Just do your best.” Green patted his shoulder and they exchanged cell phone numbers. Green waddled out of the room.
“Have a drink, Edward.” Giles spoke with overblown gravity, like this would be the most difficult conversation of Eddie’s life.
“I’m on the clock. Have to get to Anson’s house.”
“It’ll relax you. Take off the edge and get rid of your inhibitions. That’s what you need for an investigation like this.”
“I’m off the sauce.”
Giles stopped pouring himself another bourbon and regarded Eddie. “For how long?”
“Long enough that the urge is almost gone. Not long enough that it still gets to me.”
Giles finished pouring his drink and raised his glass. “To your good health then.”
Eddie said nothing.
Giles took a healthy swig and screwed up a smile. Perhaps he’d relax a bit now that the lawyer was gone.
“Edward, before we get bogged down in all this I really wanted to thank you for coming.”
“G, for Christ’s sake call me Eddie. We have history. And speaking of history, you don’t have to thank me. I owe you.”
“It was nothing.”
“It was something,” Eddie said. “You bailed me out and you challenged Tim to keep me on the team after I’d fucked up. I’ll never forget it.”
Giles grew pensive. “I always liked your brother. It is one of my great regrets that our philosophical differences drove us apart. He was a good man and a good investigator.”
Eddie waited for the but.
“Perhaps if I’d listened to Tim more, I wouldn’t be in this position now,” Giles said.
“Don’t sweat Gracie Barbitok. You’ll bounce back,” Eddie lied through his teeth. “When’s your next book out?”
Giles’s “non-fiction” accounts of his paranormal investigations over the years had enjoyed much success in the paranormal market and had even made headway into the commercial market too. He wasn’t raking it in like James Patterson, but they were his main source of income and he supplemented through investigations.
Giles heaved a sigh. “Never, unless I self-publish. After the fallout from Ms. Barbitok’s entrapment, the publishing house cancelled the contract. They won’t touch me. Business is slow too. The only person to throw me a bone the last couple of months is Anson Ketcher.”
“You believe him?” Eddie asked.
Eddie laughed. “Well that makes one of us. I can’t believe Green is going to try and sell this to a jury. It’s like saying the dog ate his homework.”
Giles smiled. “I’m glad you brought this up because it’s exactly what I wanted to discuss.”
“Ghosts don’t kill people,” Eddie said. “That only happens in movies and books.”
“With that attitude, you won’t be of any help to Anson.”
“Maybe I won’t.”
“Listen, Eddie…” Giles hesitated like it pained him to bring the next thing up. “...I meant what I said before about your brother. He was a good investigator. One of the best. But his protocols were self-limiting. Sometimes you can’t find something unless you’re looking for it. Sometimes you don’t see until you realize you’re wearing blinders.”
“Tim’s methods weren’t sexy, but they were sound. Nobody got the job done better, more professionally.”
Giles put his glass of bourbon on an end table. “Tim didn’t take any chances. If you want to grab the big brass ring, you have to reach for it.”
“Giles, all due respect, but look at where your way of doing things got you.”
Giles took it on the chin. A rueful smirk turned one corner of his mouth up. “My ambition certainly exceeded my grasp, I’ll grant you that. But you are presented with an extraordinary hypothetical, Eddie. You need to think outside the box.”
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, Giles. And don’t try to steer me. This is my investigation. Unless you want to take it from here.”
“You know I can’t because that’s exactly what the DA wants. Big, bad, fraudulent Giles Tyson on the stand. Mr. Tyson, aren’t you best friends with the defendant? Mr. Tyson, didn’t you recently appear on Gracie Barbitok’s program? Mr. Tyson, didn’t the local chapter of the paranormal society revoke your membership status? I can’t take the stand without endangering my friend’s life.”
“I don’t make a great expert witness either with my background. And it will come out that you and I have history.”
“Yes, but you’re more removed from the situation than I am. And you have a good reputation following that job in Pennsylvania. A jury will more likely believe you when you explain your biggest investigation to date was exposing a fraud.”
“My biggest investigation to date is when my brother was murdered.”
Giles didn’t miss a beat. “But really, Edward, you need to practice with Denard. He will make you come out sounding like me, only better.”
Eddie liked Giles. He forgave the guy his pompous attitude and presumptuousness. But a sharp line needed to be drawn between him and the investigation if this was going to work.
“You need to give me room to breathe. If the jury finds out you had a hand in this at all my appearing as a witness is pointless.”
“I agree with you, and that’s why we won’t speak of your work again after this conversation. So listen to me very carefully. We’re about the same age, but I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you. Unless you take a radical approach with this case, Anson Ketcher will be convicted. The only issue left for debate would be whether he gets life imprisonment or death.”
“Maybe that’s what the guy deserves.”
Giles frowned. “I’m not just worried about him. I’m worried about you. If Anson is telling the truth, and I know he is, then the ghost is dangerous. It could turn on you. You need to consider the possibility or you might not see what’s coming.”
“If your brother had been more open-minded, maybe he would have seen what was coming for him.”
Nobody spoke ill of his dead brother, especially not a disgraced investigator like Giles who’d been all-but forced out of the business because of his own excesses and poor decisions.
Eddie threw a punch and was already thinking about the next one.
The only problem was, Eddie’s first punch didn’t connect. Giles suddenly wasn’t where Eddie wanted him to be.
The room decided to somersault and then Eddie was on the floor, his elbow locked painfully in an arm bar.
“Forgive me, Eddie,” Giles said. “I spoke out of turn about your brother, but did so out of concern for you.”
Eddie’s arm felt like it was going to break. His arm was caught between Giles’s legs and the pain immobilized him.
“Ease up,” Giles said.
Eddie let his body go slack, and Giles slowly released his iron grip. Giles jumped to his feet and assumed a defensive posture, right hand leading. Eddie waited for the feeling to return to his arm and for the nerves to stop screaming, then picked himself up.
“Where the hell you’d learn to fight?” Eddie windmilled his arm carefully.
Giles relaxed out of his fighting stance. “Here and there. Eddie, I’m sorry.”
Eddie bobbed his head at Giles. “I am too. You would have cleaned the floor with me.”
“I’m sure you would have put up a good fight.”
Eddie shook his head. “I hate lefties. South paws are a pain in the ass.”
Giles laughed without mirth. “Yes we are.”
Eddie followed his GPS to the Ketcher residence. He wanted to see the place in the daytime before he went dark that night.
On the way, he couldn’t find a good song on the radio so he settled on a program about mortgages and finances. The host and his guest spoke for ten minutes about rates, how the housing market hadn’t rebounded like it should have, and the impending economic collapse, which was sure to happen in the next year or two, or decade, or quarter century. Nobody was sure. The only thing they could tell you was that there would likely be widespread famine and rioting and general lawlessness. It was all wearisome and depressing and then the host started discussing how much of a factor God played in financial outcomes, reinforcing the power of prayer, and Eddie wondered if the guy was kidding.
“We are signing off now, but keep those thoughts in mind when you pray. God will reward you financially if you just listen to Him.”
“If it were that easy...”
Eddie’s cell buzzed. Denard Green calling. He let it go to voicemail because he was making the final turn and just wanted to get inside the house. The robotic GPS voice told him the house was 750 feet ahead on his right. It stood in the distance. Relatively new construction, two stories, nice wide expanse of green yard. A volleyball net set up on one side. It looked like a great place for a party, perfect in the summer for a barbecue, large enough for a winter get-together.
Real estate was cheaper up here but still Eddie figured the Ketchers had probably paid four hundred grand for it.
The next owners would get it for a lot cheaper.
Eddie pulled into the long driveway. Two police cruisers were parked near the garage, a cop sitting in one with the windows down. He was on his cell phone and cast a malevolent eye at Eddie.
Eddie ignored him and took the path to the front door. Another uniformed cop stood on the front steps, smoking a cigarette with casual indifference. Eddie’s breath nearly caught in his throat. Unlike the cop in the cruiser, this one was a woman.
Eddie didn’t like a woman in uniform normally. They usually appeared sexless under the tailored shirt and pants and hat. But no uniform could hide this lady’s femininity. She was tall, lean, and angular like a volleyball player. Even had the blond hair to complete the look. He could picture her on TV, digging into the sands with her toes, waiting for the serve in her two-piece bikini...
And then she smiled. It wasn’t a warm or even friendly smile but he would have felt it five hours away back in his apartment.
“Hi there. Who are you?” she asked.
“Edward McCloskey, the defense’s expert witness. You must be the law west of the Pecos.”
She took a long drag, looked at him like he was a new species to her. “Expert witness, huh?”
“I can hardly believe it myself.”
That delicate jaw line hardened. “You can’t come in.”
“Like hell I can’t. I brought my buddy with me. Due process. Maybe you know him? He’s an all-access pass that gets me in this door.”
She regarded him with detached amusement.
“Officer Thieler.” Eddie put on his best from across the bar smile. “I know how badly you want to nail Anson Ketcher. Even I have trouble believing him, and I work with the paranormal for a living.”
“Uh-huh.” She was so dismissive, it perversely turned him on.
“But the last thing you want, from a professional standpoint, is a DP charge. I know how defense attorneys work. If they can make a case that law enforcement isn’t playing fair they can get their client to walk. You don’t want Anson riding off into the sunset. Bad for your conscience and bad for your career.”
Her poker face was pretty. “Uh-huh.”
“So you should really let me in. Believe me, if I don’t find anything to support what Anson is claiming I’ll tell it to the judge. And I doubt I will find anything. The sooner you let me in, the quicker this thing will be over.”
Officer Thieler finished her cigarette and stamped it out. “Speaking of the judge, you should give him a call.”
Eddie hoped a name-drop would change her attitude. “Denard Green is doing that right now.”
“Glad to hear Mr. Green has to actually work for a change. Usually he’s just complaining about police brutality and getting his clients off on technicalities.” She shrugged like this was all academic to her. “Judge Metnick issued an order about fifteen minutes ago. I’m surprised Mr. Green didn’t let you know.”
That explained the call from the lawyer.
“What’s the order say?” Eddie asked.
“Why don’t you give Mr. Green a call…just not when you’re driving of course. Now you have a nice day.”
Winking was a lost art, very difficult to pull off in this politically correct age, but he gave it a shot anyway. “Parting is such sweet sorrow, Officer.”
She winked right back at him. “Shakespeare’s overrated. Marlowe was just as good.”
“Some people think Marlowe was Shakespeare.”
She was unimpressed. “Some people think a lot of things.” She put that professional smile on again. “Some people think ghosts exist and can do murder.”
Eddie walked back to his car, having been thoroughly disarmed by Officer Thieler. He wondered what the job was like for her, probably the only woman on a police force that was still part of the good old boys’ club. She was either tough, or a masochist, or both. But there was none of the expected chip on her shoulder. She didn’t act like she had to prove her gender and she didn’t overcompensate by trying to be the toughest person in the world. She’d handled him with the ease of a comfortable veteran, one not easily rattled by anything.
It made her an intriguing puzzle.
Eddie broke the law and called Green while driving.
“The lawyer answered on the second ring. “I’ve been trying to reach you.”
Eddie smiled. Everything was an emergency to a lawyer. “I just heard about the judge’s order.”
“You can’t get in the house until the DA’s expert arrives. The judge is naturally skeptical of any testimony on the paranormal. He wants both experts present in the house to keep an eye on each other.”
“Wait…the DA has a paranormal expert too?”
“Yes.” Green paused with lawyerly gravity. “And you might have heard of her. Gracie Barbitok.”
Eddie nearly drove off the road.
* * * *
The police station was like every other police station Eddie had ever seen, except maybe a little cleaner. Old floors, old ceiling, old fluorescents. The smell of stale coffee hanging stubbornly in the air. Thickset men hunched over computers, the older ones hunting and pecking on the keyboard with just their pointers. The younger ones were expert typists and could crank out a report ten times as quickly on their smart phones. A sense of relaxed inevitability to every action, like there would always be too much crime and too little police force and it was all a matter of just getting a reasonable amount of work done each day.
“Show me some ID,” the desk sergeant said. Eddie noticed the last name on the guy’s tag.
Eddie knew that was the deceased’s maiden name and that the Towsons were a well-established fixture in this town. Her father was a big-shot local politician. Her uncle was the chief of police. Her cousin served on the force. This must have been him. The same dude who’d arrested Anson. He was about twenty-five and looked competent.
He examined Eddie’s driver’s license like a bouncer would at a campus bar. “Tell me again why you’re here.”
Eddie shared a look with Denard Green, who stood next to him holding a briefcase. “My client is here.”
“Your client is Anson Ketcher?”
“And what do you do?”
Eddie was a contrarian iconoclast at heart. He didn’t like cops giving him heat and it brought out the snide asshole in him.
“I do a lot of things. Most of them well.”
Green jumped in. “Mr. McCloskey is the defense’s expert witness, officer. He has a right to meet with Mr. Ketcher.”
Towson raised an eyebrow. “And I have every right to do my job to safeguard the internal security of this police station, counselor.”
“That does not mean—”
“I know exactly what it means and what it doesn’t mean.” Towson slapped his palm against the desk, and heads turned.
Eddie felt the eyes of local law enforcement on him. He was used to it. So was Green. A defense attorney didn’t make too many cop friends. A plain clothes detective stuck his head out of an office to gauge the scene, came out, adjusted his tie, and took his time getting to the front desk while Officer Towson stared them down.
The plain clothes cop put a hand on Officer Towson’s shoulder. The young cop got the message and backed away from the desk.
The older cop said, “Counselor. Nice to see you.”
“Detective.” Green nodded. Eddie could tell they weren’t old buddies, would never buy drinks for each other, but there was a mutual respect. “I’m here to see my client. This is my expert.”
The cop’s face was unreadably professional. He leveled neutral eyes on Eddie. “Detective Mark Ross. I’ll take you back.”
Eddie and Green followed Ross through the overcrowded station. Eddie wasn’t up to date on his tetanus shots, so he steered clear of the filing cabinets. The cops they passed looked ready to stone Green. Eddie paid attention to the names on the office doors. The last office belonged to Chief Towson. Through the glass windows, Eddie could see a big, fat man making an average-sized desk look like a children’s toy. Chief Towson did not get up, did not wave, did not do anything except watch them with barely concealed contempt.
“You don’t have too many friends around here, do you?” Eddie said to Green. He caught Ross smirking.
The lawyer gave him a flip smile. “Neither will you, Edward.”
“Good thing I don’t live here.”
Ross turned a corner. They approached a barred gate fronted by a desk. Ross waved to the skinny, pimpled kid manning the desk. The kid was swimming in his uniform and looked like he was playing dress-up. The kid pushed a button, locks tumbled, and Ross opened the gate.
“Nobody else in the lockup,” Ross said. “You’ll have your privacy in there.”
The lawyer thanked him and Eddie followed Green inside the holding area. They passed four dark, empty cells before getting to Anson’s.
Anson Ketcher had been working a sudoko puzzle. He put it down on the thin mattress of his cot and stuck his hand through the bars to shake Green’s hand and thanked him for probably the millionth time. Then, through the bars of his cage, he offered his hand to Eddie.
Eddie looked him in the eye and shook the rough, callused hand. Anson had a widow’s peak and a buzz cut with long sideburns. He wore a redneck’s Winnfield mustache surrounded by two days’ stubble. A half-moon scar over one eye. One canine missing from the upper jaw.
At least he looked innocent, Eddie didn’t say.
“Thanks for coming, man. Thanks. Giles has nothing but good things to say about you,” Anson said.
“He might be the only one.” Eddie smiled and looked at the lawyer. “Counselor, I have to ask Anson some questions now.”
Green raised a pair of caterpillar-like eyebrows and didn’t budge. “Go ahead.”
“I don’t know if you want to hear the answers to these questions.”
It took Green a moment but he got the message. He nodded sagely and shuffled away to give them some privacy.
Eddie knew from personal experience that most defense attorneys never asked their clients if they’d committed the crime in question. You could make a more compelling, plausible argument if you didn’t have to lie while doing it. Without knowing the truth, the lawyer didn’t have to deal with cognitive dissonance.
Anson frowned at Eddie. “What’s going on?”
“Did you kill your wife?”
The answer was perfectly timed. Not too fast, not too slow. “No, man. I didn’t.”
“The ghost, man.”
“How did it happen?”
“You didn’t hear?”
“I want you to tell me.”
Anson put his hands on the bars and leaned against the cage. He looked like an animal who has just figured out what a zoo really is.
“It just went crazy. Started pushing me, this way and that. I don’t know why. Then Alice got all weird and—”
“What do you mean?”
“She closed her eyes and went very still and started mouthing something, I don’t know what.”
“You didn’t hear her?”
“I think the ghost, you know, took her over.”
“No, I don’t know. What do you mean?”
“You know, possessed her like.”
“Why do you think that?”
“She made these funny sounds, and her voice got deep and it sounded weird when she talked. Like it was somebody else using it.”
Giles had failed to mention that to Eddie. “Come on. Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.”