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Authors: Erica Orloff

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Thrillers

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BOOK: Trace of Innocence
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Chapter 4

spent that Monday at work testing a shipment of heroin to determine its purity level. Lewis called me into his office at around four.

“Here’s the file on the suicide king case. We’re supposed to look for something, anything, missed, in terms of DNA evidence.”

“You looked at the file?”

He nodded.


“And there was a tiny bit of what could be sperm on the panties. Too small to have been tested that many years ago.”

“Anything else?”

“Well,” he drawled. “I’m no lawyer.”

I howled with laughter. Lewis’s IQ hovered near 170, which I only found out one night over many shots of tequila and a poker game with my father, brother, uncle and Lewis. As I recall, I lost a bundle—and Lewis lost more. When Lewis lost even his watch that night, he bemoaned a man of his IQ being at the mercy of Lady Luck—and the Quinns. And he accidentally cited his IQ score. Like most geniuses, he could be prickly. And like most geniuses, he knew better than anyone else. And that included attorneys.


“And the man had completely incompetent counsel, Billie. Guess who his court-appointed lawyer was?”

“Don’t tell me….”

Lewis nodded. “Cop-a-plea.”

Lewis and I may have been scientists residing in a world of DNA. However, we got to know the different cops and attorneys and prosecutors on the basis of their reputations. Cop-a-plea Fred? He had the worst rep of all. He had a serious comb-over, wore sweat-stained polyester suits, and bottles rattled around inside his briefcase.

“If Cop-a-plea was his court-appointed attorney, he didn’t stand a chance in hell. Fred doesn’t care about guilt or innocence, just avoiding actually showing up for a trial.”

Lewis nodded. “This case is a textbook example of how to send an innocent man to prison for the rest of his life.”

“So now what?”

“Now we test the tiniest of specks, evidence that was unable to be tested before. With the newer tests, I’m pretty sure if it’s not too degraded, we can get results. Most of this guy’s chances are pinned on that…we have to hope it’s not so degraded as to be useless.”



“You read the file, do you think he’s innocent? Or are you still just doing this because you have a crush on the ultimate unattainable woman?”

Lewis didn’t say anything for a minute. Then he swept a hand at his “wall art.” His office also had crime-scene pictures, as well as some scientific prints of cells and blood under microscopes. “You know, it would be real easy, as a man of science, to remain forever detached from what it is we’re actually doing. Over here—” his hand gestured to a crime scene with a body lying under a sheet “—we have the
worst of what man can do. And over here—” he swept his hand to a cell photo that had been taken with an infrared camera “—we have cells, DNA and what they tell us. And never the twain shall meet. I mean, that’s how it can be. We just remain in this world—the lab. We can be lab rats. But sometimes, maybe, we have to emerge and go into the other world…. Yes, it’s very possible he’s innocent, Billie. And maybe it bothers me. And if I can do something about that, then I suppose I should.”

“Dear God, does this mean you’re getting a conscience?”

“Don’t let it get out.”

I knew, of course, that when the bayous of Louisiana released a floater who was once his childhood love he had had a determination to do right, using science. But I also knew he and I were both guilty of keeping our universe microscopic and not seeing the bigger picture. Maybe life was easier that way.



“Do you think, if we do this, we’ll be doing God’s work?”

“I thought you didn’t believe in God.”

“I don’t, but I thought…I don’t know. Do
think we’d be doing God’s work?”

“God and I are distant friends, Lewis. But yeah, maybe.” I took the case file and turned to leave his office, and over my shoulder, I said, “She really got to you, didn’t she?”

He didn’t say anything, but Lewis LeBarge, the most rascally man I knew, definitely was doing some thinking.

My desk was piled three inches high with papers and files, and I sighed and looked at my watch. I’d be leaving after dark. The end of daylight saving time the previous weekend guaranteed that. I opened the Justice Foundation’s case file and began poring over every detail. Police reports, evidence analysis, witness interviews. My heart raced a bit. I had to admit, like Lewis, that there was definitely something about piecing together a puzzle that was exciting.

Cammie Whitaker was the suicide king’s victim—his only victim.

I took out a pad and pen and started writing questions as they came to me.

Why the suicide king playing card?


King = Power?

Cammie Whitaker was a beautiful redhead, a former college cheerleader for St. John’s
with blue eyes and pale, freckled skin. In her college yearbook photo there was an aloofness, something unknowable to her as she stared at the camera. In the crime-scene photos, her blue eyes stared upward, and a knife was plunged into her temple. Her body was perfectly arranged, and there were thumb-prints and finger marks in mottled red-purple around her neck. She had been strangled, as well. Everything else about her, though, was serene. Her nightgown was beautifully splayed out just so, as if, when the detectives walked in, she had simply been sleeping.

Her apartment was in Ft. Lee, a town that faced Manhattan and was an easy commute from Jersey. Rents weren’t cheap—and her apartment reflected that. The place was stunning. The furniture was all French country, tasteful. If they weren’t actual antiques, they looked like pretty good reproductions. She was twenty-three. Pretty expensive stuff for someone that young.

Old money?

I looked through the file folder. Occupation…bartender. That place would need a hell of a lot of tips, but then again, I tended bar at
Quinn’s Pub every once in a while when they were short a bartender on a shift, or to cover for my cousins when they took vacation. I never ceased to be amazed at how much cash I took home.

I read interview after interview, some of them new ones done by Joe Franklin or C.C., about David Falco. Each one focused on how gentle he was, how he always took care of his neighbors—the kind of guy who, when it snowed, shoveled the walkways of the elderly woman next door as well as his own, throwing down rock salt and making sure there was no remaining ice that could cause her to fall. It was hard to reconcile that image with the one of Cammie, knife plunged in her head. Then again, my uncle Sean could regale a roomful of nieces and nephews with stories and amateur magic tricks, help us catch fireflies and give me a quarter for every A on my report card—and then go out and shoot a man in the head. I knew about men who could compartmentalize their family lives with their mob lives, keeping them separate.

I looked at photo after photo of David Falco, from his trial, his mug shot, family photos of him as a boy, as a teen. He was sent away when he was twenty-two. He had worked as a
stonemason, and on the side he did restoration projects. He was apparently a very talented painter. Rough childhood, from the wrong side of the tracks, but he had made something of himself. Until he met Cammie Whitaker.

Lewis dropped by my desk. “Want to get a bite?”

“Nah,” I said. “I want to go home and put on my pj’s. I’m really beat. What time is it?”


“Ugh. Yet another twelve-hour day. How is it that you manage to work me like this?”

“You’re in love with me.” He winked at me.

“Uh-huh. Yeah, that’s it…. Go on home, Lewis. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you, Billie.”

After Lewis left, I shoved the Falco file into my briefcase and grabbed the keys to my monstrosity of a souped-up Cadillac. I headed to the parking garage. My heels echoed on the cement. A few pipes overhead dripped dirty water.

My Cadillac was easy to spot. It even had a little orange pom-pom attached to the antenna that I kept forgetting to take off. I walked to it and inserted my key into the lock when I heard the unmistakable sound of a clip being inserted into a gun. I froze, my back to whoever had the gun.

“Turn around real slow, Billie Quinn.”

Ordinarily, it
pisses me off when someone tells me what to do. However, a gun changes things in direct proportion to how likely it is I think the person might use it.

I turned around very slowly, my arms in the air. Whoever it was knew my name, so it wasn’t a random mugging. When I finished turning around, I recognized the twin brother of Cammie Whitaker. I couldn’t remember his first name. He had sat front and center at the trial and was in photo after photo. And he was the last person I wanted to see with a gun.

I nodded. “Hello,” I said softly, cautiously.

His eyes were bloodshot, and I thought I smelled scotch. “You’re a whore. You know that? You’re a fucking whore.”

I inhaled and tried to exude calm. “I’m sorry…” I struggled to recall his name.
That was it. “I’m sorry, Harry.”

“You’re not.” He started to cry, and the gun shook in his hand. “You’re not sorry. You’re working to free that freak from prison.”

“How would you know that?”

“Those Justice Foundation people have been snooping around. I followed them. And now they’ve got you and that LeBarge guy on the case. Well, I’m telling you to drop it.”

“Look, Harry… I can understand your pain—”

“You can’t understand anything about that!” he snarled at me. He was a good-looking guy, but I could see the toll grief had taken on him. Whereas Cammie was forever twenty-three in death, Harry had grown older, and living without his murdered sister, coupled with, I guessed, alcohol, left wrinkles crisscrossing his face. His cheeks were mottled. His eyes empty.

“I can. My mother was murdered. And putting the wrong guy away for it isn’t the way to peace, Harry.”

“He’s the right guy. The jury found him guilty in under three hours.”

In my mind, I thought that was more a testament to his incompetent counsel than guilt or innocence, but I didn’t say that to Harry.

“He may very well be the right guy—and science doesn’t lie, Harry. People do. So if he’s the right guy, the tests I run will tell us that.”

Part of me understood Harry’s reaction. Cammie’s family, poor Harry here, had to live with the fact that if the cops had caught and maybe sent away the wrong man, then the real guy was out there—somewhere. If that proved true, who did they have to hate, to be angry
with? If Falco was innocent, then they needed someone new to despise. That left the Justice Foundation. And now, thanks to Lewis’s ego and his fascination with C.C., that left me.

“Harry…I don’t know who did it. I just know that I want the truth.”

“You see him?” His eyes were deranged. “You see him on TV? He never said anything. So quiet. Maybe a friend of his did it, and he stood around and watched. I get the feeling he’d like that.”

Harry, his hair prematurely gray from the stress of his loss, his eyes sunken, started sobbing. I moved a step closer to him, and he cocked the gun and steadied it at me.

“No…no, you’re a bitch. You don’t care that my sister was murdered. That someone raped her. You don’t give a shit about anything but proving your case. Being famous. You and those Justice Foundation friends of yours. You’re all going to rot in hell.”

“Look, Harry…put the gun down. You want to murder me? Will that bring back Cammie? Will imprisoning the wrong guy bring her back? Leaving him there won’t bring you peace, Harry. It won’t take away that gnawing panic inside.”


“It’s not bullshit, Harry. I know better than anyone that peace is elusive. And revenge isn’t as sweet as people say it is.”

Harry, his face ruddy from crying, rubbed at his nose. “Just leave the case alone.”

Harry shook his head and then took his free hand—the one not holding the gun—and covered his eyes. And that’s when I knew I had to move. I just didn’t like the idea of my life being held in the balance by a man who was probably three sheets to the wind and grief stricken. So while Harry was distracted, I swiftly took my right hand and grabbed his, the one holding the gun. I took the palm of my other hand and smashed it against his neck, and then twisted his gun hand and forced him to drop the gun with a clatter to the cement floor of the garage.

Harry started to bend over to retrieve his weapon, and I kicked it under my car and then elbowed him with all my might in his ribs. My dad, when I became a teenager, insisted that I take a self-defense course. It was always there, unspoken between us, that what had happened to her could happen to me. I actually had a carry-and-conceal permit and could fire nearly as well as anyone I’d ever met at the firing range. The self-defense course, well…you can never replicate what happens when you really con
front an assailant. But according to my instructor, Mr. Ichita, my elbow-to-rib move could snap a rib. Harry doubled over with a gasp. Perhaps Mr. Ichita had been right. Harry was trying to inhale, and I guessed the little popping sound I’d heard was bone breaking. I brought my fist down on top of his head and then backed up three paces and took a running dive under my car, retrieved the gun and commando-crawled to the other side of the car, rolled out from under it and trained the gun on poor, bereaved—and fucked-up—Harry.

“I’m going to pretend none of this ever happened, Harry.”

He had thrown up on the cement of the garage floor, and slowly regained his breath. With much grimacing he returned to standing position and looked me in the eye.

“Shoot me. Go ahead. Without Cammie, none of it matters.”

“Don’t tempt me, Harry.” The gun in my hand was steady.

“You going to call the police?”

I shook my head.

“How come?” He looked shocked.

“Because, Harry…in the still of the night, I know what it’s like to wonder who murdered someone I loved. My mother was murdered,
Harry. And her killer was never caught. So I get what you feel. I get that the last thought before you fall asleep, the first thought when you wake, is, ‘What happened to Cammie?’ To the point where you can’t remember what she was like alive. She’s a body in the morgue to you. She’s someone screaming in the night for help. But I can tell you, Harry…putting away the wrong man isn’t going to raise her from the dead. So your gun is staying here with me. Go get in your car. And if I ever see you around here again, I won’t hesitate to kill you.”

BOOK: Trace of Innocence
13.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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