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Authors: Erica Orloff

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

Trace of Innocence (6 page)

BOOK: Trace of Innocence
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Chapter 9

NA kind of looks like a keypunch card once the X-ray film develops. In a sexual assault case, there’s the victim’s DNA, and then we also usually have DNA belonging to known people in the victim’s life. For instance, if the victim is a married mother, her children’s and husband’s DNA would also be gathered so we would know whose DNA was also present at the same time versus the unknown assailant’s.

David Falco had given DNA samples, and three days later, I looked at the way the tiny dots
aligned after replicating the sample from the panties.

It wasn’t a match.

I felt like screaming in the lab but contained myself. For verification, a second criminalist backed up my findings—Julio Chen. His mother was Mexican and his father was a Chinese dissident who’d defected when he was at MIT. Julio himself had gone on to study chemistry, and as soon as he finished his doctoral thesis, he’d have his Ph.D. in the same.

“Julio? You see what I see, right?”

He nodded. He had been following me every step of the way as I duplicated the DNA and ran my tests, watching me like a hawk.

“Not even close, Billie. This guy is not the rapist.”

I held up my hand for a high five, rubber gloves and all.

“I’ve never seen you get involved like this.”

“Well…this guy is special. At least the Justice Foundation thinks so, and I’m inclined to agree.”

“You’re lucky the sample wasn’t too degraded.”

I nodded. “That a little trace from years ago could come back and clear an innocent man is like out of sci-fi. I love what I do.”

I stood up, satisfied.

David Falco had not raped Cammie Whitaker that night.

His prints weren’t on the knife.

Nor were they on the playing card.

His attorney was an incompetent alcoholic who had since been reprimanded by the Bar four times.

Falco had passed two lie detector tests.

Every interviewee raved at what a great guy he was. That he was incapable of such violence.

I felt elated. In fact, though I had been a criminalist for years, I had never felt this surge of emotion as I processed a sample.

I went in to show Lewis the results. He acted underwhelmed.

“Come on, Lewis,” I whined. “Be happy.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not? I mean, C.C. will be thrilled,” I teased him. “Isn’t that at least a little reason to be glad about this?” I sat down in the chair opposite his desk.

Lewis stood and shut the door to his office. He turned around and looked at me. “Does the fact that you have to bring Tommy Salami to work with you three days running mean anything?”

I shrugged. I’d gotten over being annoyed.
“He’s good company. And he’s got nothing to do while I’m in here, so he details my car. Today he brought Turtle Wax.”

Lewis shook his head and then went and sat down behind his desk, which was covered in file folders representing cases.

“If David Falco is innocent, as it appears he is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, then there is a suicide king killer out there. And he knows you. And C.C. And you’re both pissing him off. Or else it’s Cammie Whitaker’s crazy brother. Either way, I don’t feel too thrilled with this at all.”

“You’re just thinking of this now?” I asked. “What did you think would happen when we proved he was innocent?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been a scientist for so long, I think I thought of this whole process in more abstract terms. Or more clinical terms. You know, on a microscopic level. Beyond that, before we started working with C.C. and Joe, we were faceless. Lab coats. We weren’t targets.
weren’t a target.”

“We’ll be fine, Lewis. We did something good. We did something that matters.” I thought back to my organic chemistry classes and the endless science in college. I had done it because I liked science and I wanted to do some
thing with it—law enforcement or forensics. But I didn’t find myself necessarily excited by test tubes and Bunsen burners. This was different. It felt more meaningful. And if I was honest with myself, the thought of David Falco sitting across from me without handcuffs on was exciting.

“I cooked dinner for C.C. last night,” Lewis said darkly.

“What? Lewis…she’s a nun.”

“It wasn’t like that. She wanted a crash course in DNA, and I offered to teach her over a meal.”

“Lewis,” I sighed. I took a good look at him under the fluorescent lights of his office. He looked awful—dark circles, tired eyes, unshaven face. His trademark white oxford cloth shirt wasn’t crisply dry-cleaned either.

“I can’t help myself. We talk about God and chess—she plays—and childhoods spent in the country. She’s from a small town. We talk about the bayous and about New Orleans drowning. And philosophy. Nietzsche and St. Augustine and St. Francis and Buddha…”


“She’s got an amazing mind, Billie. We talk about everything and nothing. And…I’m being a good boy, of course. But it’s killing me.
And even if I spend the rest of my life pining for her, just being her friend is good enough for me.”

“How does she feel about Ripper?”

“She thought he was cuddly,” he drawled.

“Lewis…you’re going to make yourself crazy. I don’t think this friendship is a good idea.”

“Of course it’s not,” he snapped. “But neither is snooping around in old cases. I don’t want the suicide king killer—if that’s who’s behind that attack on you—to harm her, or you.”

“Why don’t we have Tommy Salami watch over her? Would that make you feel better? My part is over, you know.”

“I don’t know if she would agree to having him follow her around. I mean, a nun and a…what do you call your father and his friends?”

“I call them Legally Challenged. It would just be temporary, Lewis. Come on, let’s go out to the parking garage. We can at least talk to him about it before we mention it to C.C. and Joe. Come on.” I was worried about ol’ Lewis.


He stood, and the two of us left the lab. Going in and out we had to use a key card and a fingerprint match on a scanner by the door. The lab itself was as secure as Ft. Knox—or close to it. The last thing a prosecutor wanted was an
O.J. mess with accusations that the lab work was tainted or the specimen somehow contaminated. Lewis was known for running a very tight ship, with reason.

Lewis and I left the building and walked to the parking garage, which was owned by the city of Bloomsbury. Employees at the lab got a discount on the monthly fee.

We walked up the ramp, and I kept rubbing Lewis’s arm. He may be the most annoying man on the face of the planet, but a depressed Lewis is even worse. When New Orleans flooded, he sank into a depression that lasted weeks.

When we got to the second floor, I made a left and then froze. “Oh, my God!”


I pointed at my Cadillac.

The dome light was on, and there, in the front seat, was poor Tommy Salami.

Someone had shot him.

Chapter 10

ewis grabbed me and pushed me to the ground. I landed on my elbow with a yelp. I pushed him away, rolled once and scrambled for my car. I knew Tommy was armed, and I wanted his gun. I also knew that except for the best SWAT team snipers, a moving target was pretty hard to hit.

“Billie, get down on the ground!” Lewis shouted at me.

My heartbeat raced as I dived for the cover of the car door. A bullet whizzed by my head, and I ducked inside. Then, gratefully, I saw Tommy was still breathing, albeit shallowly.
“Call 911,” I screamed at Lewis. “He’s still alive!”

I felt on Tommy’s body for his holster and found his gun. I scanned the parking garage, looking for anyone running away, darting between cars—anything—but didn’t see anyone. Then, behind a conversion van, someone ducked. I steadied the gun at the van. It was a hundred feet away and I had no idea what I hoped to accomplish, but I didn’t want whoever it was to get away.

“Lewis,” I called out, “there’s someone over there. Come stay with Tommy.”

Lewis dashed over and grabbed my shoulder. “Do you want to get killed? Stay here!” He had his cell phone out and was dialing 911.

I looked at poor Tommy, but I guess a combination of adrenaline and insanity took over because I shook off Lewis’s grip and ran toward the van, ducking behind cars for cover. I began shouting at the top of my lungs, “Help! Help!” hoping that someone would come along to get his or her car and hear me.

A man wearing a dark blue hooded sweatshirt took off from behind the van. His back was to me, and I wasn’t close enough to get a good look of any kind, especially with his hood pulled close around his face. He hopped into the
passenger side of a four-door green Taurus at the end of the row, its engine running, and took off. I aimed my gun at the tires, but missed. At that point, some measure of caution caught up with me. I didn’t want to risk a ricocheting bullet hitting an innocent bystander.

I tucked the gun in the waistband of my pants, and jogged back to Lewis, whose hand was pressed up against the bullet hole in Tommy’s chest. I felt for Tommy’s pulse. Still okay, if a bit thready.

“Come on, buddy, hang in there.”

The bullet hole was about two inches above Tommy’s nipple area, and it looked as though with every beat of his heart a little gush spurted between Lewis’s fingers.

“Ambulance and cops are coming,” Lewis said. I could hear the anxiety in his voice.

“He’s bleeding bad,” I replied, my own breath ragged with panic.

“Come on, ambulances,” he said. “Maybe we should lay him down.”

“I’m afraid to. What if the bullet is lodged in his spine or something?”

I heard the sound of sirens in the distance and let out a sigh of relief. Growing up with my questionable family, the sound of sirens usually made me feel a little nervous—all right, a lot
nervous. But I was never so happy to hear them as at that moment.

An ambulance, a fire truck and three cop cars came barreling up the ramp in the garage in short order, tires squealing, sirens reverberating in the echoing parking garage, lights pulsating.

Two guys in blue uniforms hopped out of the ambulance and raced to us.

“What happened?”

“He was shot,” I said.

“By who?”

“We don’t know,” Lewis said. “I’m Lewis LeBarge. I head the crime lab across the street. This is Billie Quinn, the assistant director.”

“And this guy?”

I blurted out, “He’s Tommy Salami. Um…I don’t know his real last name. He’s a friend of mine.”

“Do you know his blood type? He’s going to need a transfusion.”

I shook my head.

“Do you know of any allergies to medications, any medical conditions?”

“No…oh, wait. I know he has high cholesterol and takes…crap, you know, one of those cholesterol-lowering drugs. We were talking about it the other day.” I remembered mocking Tommy for eating his fourth Egg McMuffin
before taking his medicine. He told me he had an aversion to fruits and vegetables.

“Okay, the police will talk to you. We’ll take him from here.” Lewis removed his hand and moved out of the way. The paramedics began working on Tommy, getting him on a stretcher and into the ambulance pronto, and taking off down the ramp, siren at full blast.

The police cordoned off the parking garage, and pulled Lewis and me to different areas to question us. I told them about the incident with Harry.

“How come you didn’t report it?” a detective named John Fry asked me. He was young and good-looking—he looked as if he could have stepped right out from a cop show.

“I shrugged it off as a single act of grief. I wasn’t hurt. I don’t know…I just didn’t think he’d really do anything.”

“Well, looks like Harry Whitaker may have lost it big-time.”

“I don’t know. If he did, he had help.” Someone else had driven that car.

In the midst of all the chaos, I managed to call Jack. He arrived with his new partner about a half hour later and started buddying up to the various police on the scene, smoothing things. Next thing I knew, I was “free to go.”

Jack pulled me to the side. “You done with this?”

“Now I am. We got the results today. He’s innocent.”

“I mean these Justice Foundation people. Maybe the next time you clear some guy for murder you won’t be so lucky.”

“Look, I still have to call my father, and then there’s Lewis over there. And I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before my brother calls me
to nag me. Not you, too, Jack.”

He shook his head. “We’ll discuss this later. Vic and I have to wrap some things up on a case. I’ll call you tonight.”

“Can hardly wait,” I said sarcastically. Then I stopped. “I’m sorry. Thanks for all your help, Jack. I mean it.”

Jack took off with his new partner. His old one had had a heart attack about six months before and ended up taking early retirement.

After the police finished questioning me, I called my father so he could notify Tommy’s family that he’d been shot. I was standing in the lab parking lot with Lewis, whose shirt was covered in blood. My car had been impounded as evidence by the police. I was shivering in the cold—and from nerves.

“Billie,” Dad said. “Jesus Christ…is Tommy going to be okay?”

“I don’t know, Dad.”

“It could have been you.”

“I know.”

He was quiet for a moment or two. “I almost didn’t survive losing your mother, Billie. Be careful. Have Lewis take you home.”

I closed my cell phone. “Well, Lewis, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to take a hot shower and go to bed.”

“Is that a come-on?”

“Shut up.”

The two of us walked to his car, a much-driven and much-loved classic Thunderbird in sky blue that Lewis had owned since college and restored and kept up himself. We both climbed in and I leaned my head back against the seat.

“Can we not talk about this, Lewis?” I begged, heading him off.

He sighed. “Sure thing.”

“I can’t believe you’re not arguing with me.”

“I felt a man’s life pulsing through my fingers tonight. I may have left academia for the lab, but…this was heavy. I need a stiff bourbon.”

“Me, too. Come on, drive me home and we’ll have one together.”

We drove to my place, and while I got out
two glasses and ice, and bourbon from my cabinet, he borrowed one of my brother’s sweatshirts that I’d somehow kept over the years, and took a shower and changed. I poured us both a glass, and set them down on my coffee table. He sank into my couch and turned on the television.

“Think your father can get me a deal on a flat screen like yours?”

“As long as you don’t mind the no-receipt thing, Lewis.”

“I’m getting used to such concepts.” Lewis’s father was a retired judge in New Orleans, his mother a lifelong homemaker and member of the Junior League.

“I’m going to go shower.”

In my small bathroom, I turned on the hot water in the shower and climbed in, letting the steam rise and the hot spray hit my back where the knots of tension were. I stayed in there until the water ran lukewarm, then started to get chilly.

I climbed out, toweled off, combed out my hair and pulled it into a ponytail. I pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a rugby shirt, which had also been my brother’s. Then I went out to the couch. Lewis was watching Nickelodeon.

“Can I ask why we’re watching
” Lewis was a major newshound, and it was usually the History Channel, CNN, MSNBC…or something on PBS.

“I tried the news. We’re on it.”


“Precisely. So we’re watching

“Here’s to the pineapple under the sea.” I took my bourbon and clinked glasses with him. “We should call Joe and C.C. They’ll be worried.”

He nodded.



“Do you really think the true killer is after us, or do you think this is Harry Whitaker?”

“I don’t know. I just regret bringing you into this, Billie.”

“Lewis…when have you ever known me to listen to anyone anyway? If I didn’t want to be involved, I wouldn’t be.”

I reached for my portable phone and dialed Joe.

“I’ve been sitting here waiting for one of you to call,” he said. “You all right?”

“Yeah. We’re both okay. A little rattled, but okay.”

“And the DNA?”

“Not a match.”

I heard Joe let out a whoop on the other end of the phone and relay the message to C.C.

“I can’t wait to tell David.”

I smiled. “Let me sign off. Lewis and I are wiped out.”

“Okay. Take care. Stay safe.”


I hung up and looked over at Lewis. He was sound asleep. “Poor baby,” I whispered. I went and pulled the comforter off my bed and wrapped it around him.

“Good night, Lewis.” I turned and went to bed and tried to fall asleep. But my mind was cluttered with thoughts of the suicide king killer. I was happy that David Falco was cleared, but now I wondered who really had murdered poor Cammie.

BOOK: Trace of Innocence
4.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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