Authors: Michael Lister
Tags: #crime, #USA
“Do you know how many clients I’ve represented over the years?” Chris said. “So what if a couple of COs from PCI are my clients.”
“You made sure your partner represented Ronnie,” I said. “You couldn’t do it yourself, but you wanted to stay close to the case, keep an eye on things. The case against Ronnie was weak, but you made sure he got sent away.”
“Upton helped you with this?” Anna said.
“No,” Chris said. “There is no
is insane. This is a CO making up shit to try to cut a deal. No one will believe any of this. There’s no evidence to support any of this ludicrous bullshit.”
“Actually,” I said, “Cardigan had two cameras far more hidden than the others. One was in Ashley’s bedroom. One was in the closet where his system was so he could see who stole it. You’re on both. The one in her bedroom shows you not only sleeping with and doing drugs with her but giving her gifts––gifts that can be traced to you.”
He looked at Anna. “You know I cheated. I’ve sworn to you that I’ll never do it again. I didn’t kill her. I didn’t set up anyone. I took the cameras because I didn’t want you to ever have to see any of that. I was so ashamed. So guilty. I felt so bad. I’m so sorry. You have to believe me. You know me. You know I couldn’t kill anyone.”
“Like the actor? What was his . . . Karl Jason?”
“That was . . . He was . . .”
“There’s no way that kid was going to shoot Merrill. You told him to pretend to so you could kill him. Eliminate a witness. Make yourself look heroic. It’s premeditated murder.”
“Get the fuck out of here,” Anna said. “And stay the fuck away from us. Now you don’t just need a divorce but a criminal attorney. And I hope they’re both the most incompetent, overcharging charlatans on the planet. After you, of course.”
“Tell me again how you got him to confess all that,” Rachel Peterson said.
It was two days later.
We were standing outside the duplex once shared by Ronnie Cardigan and Ashley Fountain. Inside, the FDLE crime scene unit was taking the place apart––literally, forensically.
Chris was in custody. He had been offered a plea deal if he’d testify against Randy Wayne and the others, but in case he didn’t, in case, instead of confessing, he decided to claim his innocence and demand to see the evidence against him I had mostly made up, FDLE, TDP, and Rachel’s office were not only processing Ronnie and Ashley’s duplex, but going through his old phone and bank records and interviewing Anna to see what help she might be able to provide.
“I mean, you had nothing, right?” she said.
“Didn’t have much.”
“You had nothing.”
“I had enough,” I said.
“Yeah, to hum a few bars and fake the rest.”
“Sometimes that’s all you got.”
“How much did you make up?”
“More than a little. If he hadn’t believed we had him on camera . . .”
“If he hadn’t been guilty,” she said. “If you hadn’t been right.”
“I thought he might believe Cardigan was good enough and paranoid enough to have more cameras than he’d found. I knew if he had seen himself on the footage captured by the ones he took, he would actually picture himself on the others. I made up him giving her gifts, but I figured a guy like him was the type to give shiny trinkets to buy, bribe, and impress a young girl like Ashley.”
“Did you know you were going to do it when I stopped by your place?”
I shook my head. “Didn’t know I was going to do anything until the moment I did. Some of the pieces began to come together on my drive over to the hospital, but I planned to check more of it out before I said or did anything.”
“And call me.”
“And call you, of course.”
“That whole checking more of it out thing would’ve been a good idea,” she said.
I nodded. “It was an impulsive, amateurish mistake,” I said, “which may have had something to do with him being . . . who he is.”
“Can’t remember the last time anyone surprised or impressed me,” she said. “You’ve done both this week. Twice. I look forward to doin’ some blood work with you John Jordan. I really do.”
After leaving the crime scene, I drove around the neighborhood for a few minutes, trying to prepare myself to face Tom and Sarah Daniels––and Susan if she happened to be there, though I suspected she had long since moved back to Atlanta.
I hadn’t liked the way things had ended between us, and had been trying to get in touch for a very long time. After speaking with Tom by phone earlier in the week, I had been curious to know what he thought I had figured out, what he thought I knew that he didn’t want me knowing.
Was it connected to his calls to Ashley or something else entirely?
I had to know. I couldn’t get this close to his home and not stop in and look into his eyes.
I probably shouldn’t. I should probably be glad the entire family is out of my life. I should probably just let all that had happened––and them along with it––go, but I couldn’t. Something deep inside was compelling me to knock on his door and see what happened.
I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t going to be. But I was as ready as I was going to get anytime soon––maybe ever.
I didn’t pull into the driveway, instead parked on the street several car lengths down from their house.
I walked toward the familiar dwelling, feeling old familiar feelings. Susan and I had made love in this house. Tom and I had discussed cases in this house. I had witnessed Sarah’s PTSD in this house. We had crashed here after FSU football games and concerts and DOC meetings. One of Susan’s too-many bridal showers had been here. So had our engagement party cookout. This house was haunted for me.
Mind racing, heart pounding, I walked up the drive, along the stone path, and onto the front stoop.
Standing in front of the enormous oak door, I took a breath and let it out slowly.
I hadn’t seen any of these people who were once family since I had accused Tom of murder and Susan had said if I turned him in she’d not only end us, but the life of our child just beginning to grow inside her.
This would not go well. It would not end in any way pretty, only in pain. But I couldn’t not knock.
So I did.
To my surprise, it wasn’t Tom or Sarah, but Susan who opened the door. To my shock, she was holding a small child who could only be our daughter.
She had been distracted, looking back over her shoulder, opening the door like someone expecting takeout delivery.
It took her a moment to realize what was happening, not just that she was seeing me, but that I was seeing the beautiful, brown-eyed creature she was holding.
With recognition and realization came an extreme mix of emotion, culminating in tears––tears that streamed not poured, tears she wiped away with her free hand.
Something inside Susan broke. I could see it happening.
It took her a moment before she could speak, but when she did . . . she managed to say some of the sweetest words I’d ever heard, as if her carrying and giving birth to our baby had been truly transformative, as if in this moment, that we shared a daughter was all that mattered.
“John, I’d like you to meet Johanna. Johanna, this is your daddy.”