Authors: Evan Ronan
“I’m not, God’s honest truth.”
“Speaking of the Big Man Upstairs, you and your wife are pretty religious, huh?”
Anson frowned. “Yeah. So what?”
It was Eddie’s turn to frown. Something about that bothered him.
“What’s that got to do with the price of tea in damned China?” Anson asked.
“You guys went to church?”
“We were heavily involved. We went every Sunday and then we volunteered for other things.” Anson said this as if it should earn him points in Eddie’s book. “Our church saved our marriage. The pastor helped us through our problems.”
Read: the pastor discouraged divorce. From Giles, Eddie knew that Anson had a history of domestic violence. Instead of helping them to part ways, the church had let no one tear them asunder, not the state and certainly not Mrs. Ketcher herself.
“What did Alice say, when she was possessed?”
“This is what gave me the idea she was possessed. She said,
It’s not me
“In that weird voice, she said it wasn’t her.”
Eddie scrutinized the man behind bars. He didn’t wither under Eddie’s stare. His eyes were telling the truth.
But Eddie didn’t buy it for a second. He got up and started walking away.
“Hey,” Anson said. “Wait a minute, man.”
The lawyer turned and saw Eddie approaching. “Where are you going?”
“I’m out. This little experiment is over.”
The lawyer cuffed his arm before he could pass. “Wait! Why?”
Eddie gave the lawyer a look that said don’t touch me. “You sure you want to know?”
Green let go of his arm. Thought about it. “Yes.”
Eddie dropped his voice. “Because he’s guilty as hell.”
* * * *
Outside, the sun was warm on Eddie’s skin, the air fresh. Summer still going strong. Autumn not even lurking.
Better to walk away from this one. Eddie’s initial instinct was bolstered by Anson’s nonsensical account. The ghost had possessed Alice, changed its mind, then killed her? It was hard enough to get people to believe in the paranormal at all. Getting them to buy this chain of events would require the talents of PT Barnum.
And the clincher was the strange words coming out of Alice’s mouth. If the ghost had possessed Alice and spoken through her, why would it then say those words? Or why would Alice speak those words in a strange voice?
And that was ignoring the monkey wrench that would be Gracie Barbitok.
Green called his cell. He ignored it and headed for his car in the municipal lot, feeling better with each step. He’d come out here to pay back the favor to Giles Tyson, found out Anson was a liar, so now he could leave with a clear conscience.
Shame that clear consciences cost so much in travel expenses and time.
On his way to the car, he spotted Officer Thieler hop out of a hastily parked cruiser. She’d taken her hat off to drive, and Eddie saw her pinned-up blond hair. He took a detour and walked to her car.
“We have to stop meeting like this,” Eddie said.
She reached in the car for her hat. He took full advantage of her turned back to check her out. She put her hat on and faced him. “You’re right.”
“You off duty now?”
She smiled. “A cop is always on duty.”
Eddie didn’t feel like immediately jumping in his car and driving another five hours home. A hot meal would be good. Even better if she was sitting across the table from him.
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
She sized him up. “I’m not into career suicide.”
Eddie wanted to tell her he was off the case, but he knew that wouldn’t be enough for her. “What are you into?”
“Mr. McCloskey,” she said with mock indignation. “I’m a lady.”
“Can’t blame a guy for trying. Maybe under different circumstances we could have had a good time.”
She gave him that ironic smile. “Under different circumstances, I’d probably be arresting you.”
“You just can’t wait to get those cuffs on me, can you?”
She started walking. “Nice knowing you.”
He watched her go and tried to think of something to say. His eyes followed her all the way up the front steps.
Finally he thought of something. “Yours is a face that could launch a thousand squad cars.”
She turned at the entrance and made a grand bow like she was Helen of Troy and went inside.
Eddie couldn’t find a diner, so he settled on a pub. He ordered a sandwich and a glass of water and ignored the bar flies slowly killing themselves with the booze. Coming here was a bad idea. Since he’d gone cold turkey, he’d followed the conventional wisdom and avoided bars. Now he understood why.
Though the thought of guzzling a beer turned his stomach, there was a small part of him that said one wouldn’t hurt.
Green called his cell again, but Eddie ignored it. A few minutes later Giles buzzed him. Eddie figured he owed his friend an explanation.
“Your buddy is guilty as sin.”
“Maybe he is,” Giles said. “But why drop the case? Nobody’s asking you to lie. Green explained to me that under the rules of evidence, you have to turn over whatever you find now that he’s named you as his expert. We’re not asking you to be a lawyer. We’re asking you to give it an honest evaluation.”
“I already have.”
Giles ignored his comment. “Do you think Gracie Barbitok is going to play fair? You and I know how she operates. She has no qualms about playing fast and loose with the truth, twisting things to suit her own agenda.”
Eddie thought that was the pot calling the kettle black, but Giles had a point. Gracie Barbitok would do a controlled demolition job on Anson Ketcher’s claims regardless of the veracity of them. If Eddie bowed out, there’d be nobody to speak for the accused other than Anson’s uncle, Denard Green.
And it was true that Eddie wasn’t being asked to lie. Whatever he found, even if it was incriminating, would be produced. If he found enough damning evidence, Green wouldn’t call him as a witness at all. Maybe there would be no trial. His reputation would remain intact.
Giles saw the opening and jumped through it. “Just consider one thing for me before you go.”
“I’m hitting the road, Giles.”
Giles ignored him. “Check out the history of the house.”
“Then make up your own mind. No hard feelings if you leave.” Before Eddie could respond, Giles killed the call.
Eddie finished his sandwich. Some poor old liver-spotted bastard with a drinker’s pudgy nose stumbled away from the bar. Eddie wondered if he’d already done enough damage to himself before he quit that he’d end up like that guy anyway.
So...the Ketcher residence had history. All houses had history but that was a fact favorable to Anson to add to the
Maybe It’s True
column. It wouldn’t hurt to chase down the information.
And what had been bothering him about Alice Ketcher swam to the surface. She was supposedly a Bible-thumping, God-fearing christian woman. And yet if Anson was to be believed, she’d done some strange things to make him think otherwise. That was worth double-checking too.
Eddie decided to call the lawyer back.
“I’ve been trying to reach you,” Green said. “The accused has a right to a fair trial, Edward. It’s one of the most fundamental princ—”
“Take it easy on the Con Law lecture, Green.”
Lawyers weren’t good at shutting up, though. If it weren’t for judges, lawyers would be talking all the fucking time. “Without you keeping things honest, Gracie Barbitok will run Anson over, then back up the car and do it again. You have to—”
“I’m assuming the DA took the Ketchers’ hard drive into evidence, right? Can you get an expert to search the Internet history?”
Green paused. “Of course. We have a right under—”
“Right. Got it. We need to take a look at it.”
“Sure. Anson can help us with passwords. We can look at all the files too.”
“I don’t need the whole kit-and-caboodle. Just start with an internet history.”
“What are we looking for?”
Eddie told him.
“I take it this means you’re still on-board.”
“We’ve also got a copy of Alice’s diary.”
“Good. Make a copy for me.”
* * * *
Eddie trudged to his car and called an old friend. Stan had been on Eddie’s brother’s team years ago, and they’d all grown up together. Stan had lucked out and hit the lottery awhile back and now spent all his time pursuing his many hobbies, most of which were quickly abandoned. Stan was married to Moira, the only woman Eddie ever loved.
Stan answered on the fifth ring. A baby wailed in the background. It sounded like somebody was strangling a cat and it was followed by a loud crash.
“I take it this is a bad time,” Eddie said.
“Eddie, what’s up, motherfucker?” Stan said.
“Language!” Moira yelled in the background.
“Sorry!” Stan dropped his voice. “She is only three months old for God’s sake.”
Eddie smiled as he pictured the crazed domestic scene in his mind. Stan’s baby girl was already three months old, and Eddie still hadn’t had a chance to see her. He really needed to get out there.
“I’m doing some—”
“I know,” Stan said. Eddie heard a door shut and then couldn’t hear the baby anymore. “I may be a new father, but I’m still plugged in. Your name popped up on the grid.”
“Always a step ahead of me. Or maybe you’re a cyber-stalker.”
“I’m married. I have to live vicariously. So what can I do for you?” Stan had become Eddie’s sounding board. Whenever Eddie ran into a wall, he called Stan.
“My client, Anson Ketcher.”
“Your client? Don’t you mean the killer?”
“Innocent until proven guilty.”
“He’s about as innocent as a priest in a boys’ locker room.”
“That’s pretty good. Can you do a quick check on the house history for me? It looks new, but I don’t know anything about it.”
“You already did?”
“Old habits die hard. I figured you’d be calling.”
“You know me so well.”
“That’s right sweetheart. The house is twenty years old. Ketchers purchased it seven years ago. Previous owners were Lee and Mary Oliver. Mary died in the house.”
“Lee still alive?”
“The trail on him went cold. Mind you, I didn’t do much digging. Just a little.”
“Got anything on him? Where he worked?”
“The foundry up there. I forget the name.”
“You’re the man, Stan.”
“How’s the rug rat?”
“She’s only three months, but I think she’s cutting a tooth already if you can believe it.”
“I meant Moira.”
“Ha-ha. Funny. She’s good. I’m good. We’re all good, brother. You should come out.”
“I should come out.”
“You never do, though.”
Eddie felt the brooding part of him stirring. “Thanks, Stan. I’ll give you a call when I have a better picture.”
“Good. Because you know, I don’t have anything else to do.”
* * * *
Eddie used his GPS to find the Ketchers’ church, a towering structure that seemed to hold the sky up with its spires. Eddie marveled at the architecture and wondered how much money it had cost when it’d been erected sixty years ago. He parked illegally on the street and beheld the human ingenuity that had gone into the designing. The cathedral’s grandeur was enough to impress even Eddie’s skeptical mind.
He would have enjoyed studying the building more, but it was already four in the afternoon. He still had a lot of other work to do, and if he wanted to go dark tonight at the Ketchers’, he had to hustle.
The doors were unlocked. Nobody was going to rob or vandalize this church, all the way out here. It was warm and smelled of fresh smoke and decades of incense that had seeped into everything.
The sanctuary was wide enough to accommodate an SUV. The floor thickly carpeted. Eddie walked through to the transept. More than anything, the building felt solid, like it would withstand the vagaries of time, the ravages of weather, the fickleness of its congregation.
A thirty-something woman appeared in the narthex. “Can I help you?”
She wore a pair of jeans that had gone out of fashion in the eighties and a sweater even though it was eighty degrees outside.
“Hi, I’m Eddie McCloskey.” He put on his disarming smile. “I was wondering if Pastor Grohmann was available.”
She adjusted her glasses on her tiny, beak-like nose. “I can check. What is the…nature of your visit?”
Eddie kept that friendly smile firmly in place. He realized he was going to misspeak due to his Catholic upbringing. “I was trying to track down one of his parishioners.”
“Oh.” She waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t. “Give me a moment.”
She padded silently away down the transept. He heard a door open and shut. He stood in the main aisle, looked back down the sanctuary. The stained glass window hovered over the front entrance. In it, Christ was a pale Caucasian with light brown hair carrying a cross. Denizens of Jerusalem surrounded him, most accusatory, some sympathetic. Eddie realized that Jesus was probably the most famous ghost on the planet. If the Christians were to be believed, he rose from the dead.
Eddie heard the door open and he turned to look down the transept where the woman had gone. A man with salt-and-pepper hair sporting a trim beard appeared. He wore a pair of slacks and a button-down shirt and approached Eddie with a serious air.
“Hello, I’m Pastor Grohmann.”
Eddie shook his hand and introduced himself. He put the pastor in his mid-forties. He watched as the pastor sized him up too.
“How can I help you, Mr. McCloskey?”
“Call me Eddie, please. I’m actually here for a couple reasons.”
“Oh?” Behind the beard, the man was wary. Looked at Eddie like he was a door-to-door salesman.
“Denard Green hired me to help him defend Anson Ketcher.”
The pastor’s face fell.
Eddie said, “Is there somewhere we can talk?”
Grohmann nodded. “Follow me.”
Eddie trailed the pastor through the transept, a heavy wooden door, through another building, and up some stairs till they came to a cozy office. The walls were lined with overcrowded bookshelves. The pastor gestured to an empty chair, then sat behind his desk.
Eddie said, “Thanks for sitting down with me.”
“You have the mark of an atheist.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You were more impressed by the architecture than by me. You don’t revere the institution, but you admire the human work that went into it.”
Eddie was impressed. “Pretty good eye, Pastor. What can you tell me about Alice and Anson?”
“What they shared with me is confidential.”
“They were devout?”
Eddie paused, hoping to draw the pastor out. He didn’t take the bait.
Eddie said, “Did they come to you about the paranormal activity in their house?”
The pastor’s eyes narrowed. “Yes. And I told them, there is no such thing as ghosts.”
“Except Jesus, of course.”
Grohmann sat forward and put his hands on his desk. “You come to me for help and you insult me?”
“Did Alice come to see you more than once about the ghost?”
“Just one other time. But I don’t think she liked what I had to say.”
Eddie frowned. “Anson could swing for this. What if he didn’t kill Alice? Is a man’s life, one of your flock, less important to you than your dogma? The existence of ghosts doesn’t necessarily lay waste to your beliefs.”
“Anson was a troubled man. I thought he was getting better, but…unfortunately he didn’t. No ghost did this. Anson Ketcher murdered his wife. And now Alice’s blood is on my hands. I must pray for forgiveness, just as Anson should.”
“You really think he did it?”
Grohmann nodded. “Now I’m afraid I can’t help you any further, Mr. McCloskey.” The pastor stood.
Eddie did too. “You and I don’t have to be enemies.”
“No man is my enemy.”
“Was Lee Oliver part of your congregation?”
The pastor hesitated.
Eddie took that as a yes. “Do you know if he’s still around?”
Grohmann came from around the desk and put a firm hand on Eddie’s shoulder. Eddie was surprised by the man’s strength. The pastor herded him toward the door.
Eddie wormed out of the man’s grasp. “Why not tell me where Oliver is? If you’re right, then it won’t matter if I talk to him.”
“Lee has early onset dementia. Even if I tell you, you might not get much out of him.”
* * * *
Eddie used his GPS to find the nursing home. It was a forty-five minute drive from the church. No surprise because in this county, everything was a forty-five minute drive. Eddie parked and entered the sprawling, one-story structure. It was after five.
Inside, a gowned resident was screaming at an attendant to be allowed to go home, while the nurse explained to her that it was almost dinner time.
Eddie hoped when his time came he’d die quickly and suddenly. He didn’t relish the thought of wasting away, his faculties and bowel control in a race-to-the-bottom contest. Old age terrified him.