Home > The Ex(3)

The Ex(3)
Alafair Burke

“Really, Detective?”

“You’re the one who wants him moved from this comfy room with a big sturdy lock. Can’t have it both ways, Ms. Randall. Or did you forget that your boy’s the suspect in a triple homicide?”

THERE WERE NO ONE-WAY WINDOWS or recording instruments in sight in the conference room Boyle ushered us into. I thanked him as he closed the door. He rolled his eyes.

Jack was still looking at me in disbelief. “How did you know—”

“Your daughter called me.”

“But how did she—”

“She pieced it together and got worried. From what I can tell, you raised a clever girl.”

There was an awkward pause, and he looked at the door that Detective Boyle had just shut. “They really eavesdrop?”

“He needs to know you’ve got a lawyer who’s not going to make his job any easier.” Boyle would be back here any minute to say the clock was ticking on the next transport to MDC. After the standard spiel about attorney-client privilege, I got straight to the point. “They seem to think they have something on you. What is it?”

He muttered something so low that I could barely make out the words. Howard Johnson.

“The hotel?” I asked.

“No. Your first mock client interview in law school. The professor gave you a fake case file, a robbery. The client’s name was Howard Johnson, and you were practicing on me. We were on that lumpy futon in the living room, don’t you remember? And you got so mad at me for laughing every time I said my name was Howard Johnson. We kept starting over and over again until you told me to change my name to something else so you could get through the questions, exactly how you wrote them.” Jack was staring into the table, seeing a scene that had played out twenty years earlier. “So I started throwing out alternatives: Mel Content, Jerry Atric, Drew Blood. You didn’t see the humor until Seymour Butts. You don’t sound like a stressed-out first-year law student anymore.”

Jack was suffering not only the physical, but also the cognitive tolls of custody. For some people, this part was almost like going into shock. There was no time to reminisce. I had to shake him out of it.

“Jack, you’re under arrest, apparently for murder. There were shots fired at the football field at the Hudson piers today. People died. Did they explain any of that to you?” From the quick news searches I’d done on my phone during the cab ride to the precinct, I had yet to see any identification of the victims, or any mention that a suspect had been arrested. “Listen to this question carefully: what would make the police think you did this?”

I had learned the careful phrasing from Don. As worded, the question allowed for distance. It gave the client a chance to tell me what evidence the police might have, but still allowed me ethically to let the client take the stand and offer an entirely divergent story.

“I—I heard the shots by the West Side Highway. I didn’t even know they were shots. Then I got home and heard the news. Obviously, I was rattled. I mean, after Molly. That I had been so close to another shooting—”

Back when Molly was killed, I had thought about reaching out. But how? A phone call? A sympathy card? Does Hallmark have a special section for, “Sorry I haven’t talked to you since I shattered your life, and now I’m sorry you lost the woman who pieced it back together?” Probably not.

As Jack described how he ended up in an interrogation room wearing a sweaty undershirt, I could picture every step, starting with Jimmy Boyle’s knock on Jack’s apartment door. Boyle told him they were canvassing for witnesses, like it was standard door-to-door protocol. The police were looking for “folks” who might have seen something. If he could come down to the station, that would be helpful. And Jack was Jack. He was as helpful as they came.

I interrupted to double-check whether the police gave him the option of “helping” from the comfort of his own apartment.

“Um, yeah, I guess so. But Buckley was home, and I could tell she was worried. You know how kids are.” Actually, I didn’t. “And, well, things with Buckley—she’s a tough, brave girl in a lot of ways, but she’s sensitive about certain things. The way she lost her mother—it damaged her. So the thought of police coming to her home and asking about anything gun related—you can imagine that it’s upsetting. So when the detective said maybe we could talk at the station instead, I figured it was because he saw me distracted by Buckley.”

“So you agreed to come in?”

“Basically. But I said at least half an hour ago that I needed to get home, and he just keeps saying they need a little more time.”

I pressed my eyes closed. Jack really was still the same: kind but gullible. The police had played him. “Your daughter was worried for a reason, Jack. You’re not a witness. You’re a suspect. And that detective seems pretty confident that they have a case against you. What have you told them?”

“This morning—Oh God, Olivia, talking to you, of all people, about this. It’s embarrassing.”

“Well, right now, I’m all you’ve got, and Boyle will be back here to process you soon.” Booking. Transport. A holding cell. This was no time for him to be shy. “I can’t help you if you don’t start talking. So let me ask the question again: what would make the police think you did this?”

When he was finally done answering my carefully phrased question, he slumped back in his chair and looked up at the acoustic-tiled ceiling. “Jesus, they’re never going to believe me.”

I managed to keep my response to myself. Damn straight they won’t.

I PRESSED JACK TO TELL me exactly how much of this information he had given to the police.

“All of it,” he said.

“Seriously? The party dress and the basket and the book?”

“The detective said he was curious. He said he was single, too. Every time I asked him why he needed all these details, he seemed to have an explanation.”

Boyle had pressed for details because they now knew Jack was locked in—on tape—to a complex explanation for being near the site of the shooting. And complicated stories don’t sound as true as simple ones.

Jack was saying he never should have mentioned the woman to Charlotte. “She runs that website, the Room. And she loves romance posts. Jesus, I even said the woman reminded me of Molly—that, for the first time, I was open to the idea of another shot at happiness.”

Not a second shot at happiness, but another one. Molly was already the second, because I was the first. Twenty years later, and still so much guilt.

“I should have realized,” Jack was saying, “that Charlotte would take me literally and try to find the woman. And when Charlotte sets her mind to something . . . the next thing I knew, she’s got this post on the Room’s home page. I was mortified. She didn’t use my name, but she may as well have with all the biographical details. I actually forgot about it, but then Charlotte got a response a few days later. We started e-mailing, and I was supposed to meet her today. I swear, that’s all I know.”

And he had fed every detail to the police, who would twist and turn the information to suit their needs.

“This woman Madeline’s the one who picked the football field as the meeting spot? The e-mails will back that up?”

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