My First Anti-Clinton Novel
On the same day in Raleigh, Agent Matt Redmond of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation tapped on the door of the director’s office. Under his arm he carried a large sheaf of manila file folders, bulging with documents and photographs. “Come on in, Matt,” said the director, a rotund man in a pin-striped shirt, red suspenders, and a string tie. Redmond came in, closed the door without asking, and sat down. “Real nice job on that business down in Duplin County,” the director complimented him. “I just got a call from Haskins, the D.A. down there. Antonio Johnson’s lawyer called him, wants to cut a deal.”
“What, plead him down to second degree or manslaughter?” demanded Redmond. “That’s outrageous bullshit, Phil!”
“Yeah, I know. That’s what Haskins told the shyster. He said the best deal his client’s going to get is guilty to murder one with no death penalty, and he testifies against Kenny Atwater. Johnson will do a good twenty at least, and Atwater gets the needle. D.A. thinks they’ll go for it, and the way things are going right now with the legislature and the Supreme Court trimming back all these goddam appeals we might actually see Kenny get the juice in five or six years instead of the usual ten or fifteen. If you hadn’t found Valerie Seawell and turned her we’d have been lucky to get them at all. Congratulations again on a job well done, Matt.”
“What’s Miss Valerie’s future looking like?” asked Redmond.
“Oh, she cut a deal for five years in Bragg Street and she thinks after that she’s going to go into the Witness Protection Program and spend a few years munching nachos and watching color TV,” chuckled the director. “But since you pointed out that outstanding warrant in Georgia, I think the folks down there can protect her a lot better in one of their women’s prisons than our overburdened federal judicial system can. Valerie don’t know that, of course, and we’re going to make damned sure she don’t find out until after she testifies.”
“She’ll only get another five or ten years in Georgia,” commented Redmond, his lean face scowling. “Dammit! All three of them ought to be wheeled into that little green room down there in Central Prison and get three needles stuck in their arms, hooked up to one family-sized jug of cyanide! Kay Wicker was a trashed-out whore and a junkie, but the baby was only eighteen months old, for Christ’s sake!”
“She probably would have ended up like her momma,” commented the director. “Or like our Miss Valerie.”
“We don’t know that for sure,” said Redmond morosely. “Now we’ll never know.”
“Look, Matt, we got the bad guys. One of them’s headed for the green room eventually, and the other two will be off the street for a good long while. With the system today, that’s as good as it gets. If it weren’t for you they’d still be out there selling poison to kids and killing more people. Another case closed for the Southern Sherlock Holmes!”
Redmond groaned in disgust. “You’d think you’d have better things to do with your time than watch tabloid TV,” he said.
“Better than Two Gun Matt,” laughed the director. “You ask for it, you know, wearing that fedora hat all the time and going around looking like you’re Indiana Jones. Look, you said you wanted to see me. What’s up?”
Redmond fished a sheet of paper out of his pocket. “Vacation request form. Starting October 1st. Three weeks accumulated vacation, all my sick leave, and all my comp time for the past two years off every case I ran for days without a break, time I never took. Total six weeks. I checked with Human Resources and this is all legit, I’m entitled to it. I want it all. If I can’t work this out vacation-wise I’ll take an unpaid leave of absence, but I want the time off.”
“Jeez, Matt, I don’t know, six weeks...” said the surprised director doubtfully.
“Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten I’ve got court in the Ming Ho murder and the Armaco fraud case coming up during that time frame,” Redmond assured him. “I’m not going to the north pole or anything. I’ll still be in the area. I’ll make all my court dates and testify with bells on. I want to take this time for a personal project.”
Redmond pulled one of his Dominican cigars out of his pocket. “You mind?”
“Only if you don’t give me one.” Redmond handed him a cigar. “Hang on a minute,” the director said, his mouth watering. He got up and went to the door, which he locked. Then he went to the window air conditioner rumbling in the far wall. “Too damned hot outside to open a window,” he said, turning the unit on high and also turning on an electric fan which sat on his desk. Papers started ruffling around the room and lifting off the desk; the director slammed assorted objects down as paperweights to keep them from taking flight. They both lit up and leaned back in their chairs, luxuriating in the fragrant smoke. “The smell of these will be all over the building in ten minutes,” chuckled the director gleefully. “Then that politically correct bitch Betty Springer will spend the next twenty running up and down the halls in a self-righteous frenzy trying to catch the unreconstructed reactionary male lawmen who are violating the state’s sacred no-smoking policy.”
“Phil, do you realize that if anyone besides me overheard you make those remarks you could lose your job?” said Redmond seriously. “Plus Assistant Director Springer could file a lawsuit claiming that you were creating a hostile sexist atmosphere in the workplace that might cost you your life savings, your home, and everything you own? You’d be better off getting caught with your hand in the till. If you were just stealing money the attorney general and the governor might could cover your ass. Get hit with any kind of PC violation and they’ll run for cover like spooked rabbits.”
“I’m well aware of it,” replied the director bleakly. “Bucking for my job, Matt? Why don’t you report me?”
“I’m going to forget I heard that,” said Redmond.
“Sorry,” sighed the director. “What’s sickening is that there’s some in the bureau who would go running to Betty Springer about my smoking a cigar or rat me out to the news media if I told a nigger joke. My God, sometimes it’s like living under Stalin! I expect to come in some morning and see posters on the wall telling me Big Brother is watching!”
“Big Sister,” chuckled Redmond.
“Anyway, getting back to you, this personal project that’s going to take six weeks we can ill afford to give you is...?”
“You remember once or twice over the past three years you’ve asked me why I left Justice and joined the SBI?” asked Redmond.
“I do indeed,” said the director, puffing away. “I never really bought the Waco story. I’ve always wondered why you really resigned from a job with a six-figure salary and enough perks and bennies effectively to double your pay, and an incredible retirement package. You tossed all that aside, and what did you do then? Did you join one of the two dozen law enforcement agencies in this country or in Europe who would have gone down on bended knee for your experience and expertise? Nope. Instead you came back to tobacco country to sign on with a pissant little state investigative agency with no real power, authority, or resources. This job pays less than a good secretary in the Research Triangle Park earns, we just barely have powers of arrest, and we’re so politicized that someone with the right connections in the Democratic party can publicly buttfuck animals in the Asheboro zoo and still escape prosecution.”
“How’s Wiley’s therapy coming?” asked Redmond.
“Hell, I don’t know, ask the judge. Ask his damned shrink.”
“Well, now, you got to remember Wiley didn’t get off scot free,” reminded Redmond. “The llama bit him in the ass.” The director snorted. “Look, you asked and I’ll tell you the whole story now. Waco was true enough as far as it went. I wouldn’t have stayed federal after that no matter what, but as to why I joined your little band of merry men specifically, the SBI has something I want.”
“And what might that be?” asked the director curiously.
“Huh? I don’t follow,” said the director, puzzled.
Redmond slid the file folders across the desk to him. “The SBI has jurisdiction over this,” he said quietly. “I want this case, Phil. I’ve been here three years and not taken a single day off specifically so I can accumulate enough vacation to work this case on my own time, concentrate on it without worrying about twenty others on my board. I’m asking for this leave starting October 1st. That gives you over two months’ notice. That gives me two months to clear everything off my desk. I’ll leave you with a clean slate, every i dotted, every t crossed. In return I want all six weeks I’m asking for. This investigation was never closed. I want you to assign it to me officially, so I have proper authority and so I can use the archives, use the lab if I need it, get assistance from the local cops in Chapel Hill and the Orange County Sheriff, so forth and so on, whatever I may require. I don’t want you calling me in for anything or trying to cut me short. I don’t give a damn if Peaches the transvestite whore bites off Billyboy’s dick during a blow job under the statue of the Confederate soldier down on the Capitol grounds. If that happens you call the Secret Service, not me. I am going to find the bastards who did this!”
The director looked at the files. There was a faded rubber stamp in large lettering, “Investigation #89945-70. Opened: October 24, 1970. Closed: ____________.” The closure date was blank. “Orange County. Offense: Multiple Homicide” he read aloud from the jacket. He opened the first file. “Mary Jane Mears, female Caucasian, aged 16. Allison Jean Arnold, female Caucasian, aged 17.”
He looked up. “You know, Matt, it’s odd. Ever since you came here, I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to ask you to take a look at this one, what with you being Sherlock Holmes and all, and I don’t mean that in a facetious or disrespectful way. Tabloid bullshit aside, I got to say you’re the best I’ve ever seen at looking at a crime scene and figuring out just what the hell happened, and then going out and bringing in the right people. Hell, yes, you can have your six weeks and you can have this case! But why? What got you interested---oh, sure, that’s right, you’re from Chapel Hill, aren’t you?”
“Carrboro, actually, but it’s the same thing. I grew up out of Carrboro along Highway 54, just a few miles from where I live now, and I went to Chapel Hill High School. I’d just turned 17 when it happened. I knew both the victims. Some time ago, I couldn’t even exactly tell you how or when, I made up my mind that this is something I’m going to do for Mary Jane and Jeannie.”
“What if you can’t turn up anything new in six weeks?” asked the director. “This was twenty-five, almost twenty-six years ago. Trail’s mighty cold and a lot of your witnesses are going to be long gone, dead or scattered to the four winds.”
“Then I’ll work another three years with no vacation and take another six weeks off,” replied Matt. "I’m going to get these guys.”
“What if you can’t get them?” asked the director. “What if you just can’t find any new leads after all this time? The agents who legged this in 1970 weren’t fools, Matt, and two teenaged girls raped and murdered wouldn’t have been a politically protected case. The SBI wouldn’t have gone that far for anybody, not a double sex murder.”
“I know that, Phil.”
“Worse yet, suppose you come up with a theory and the men turn out to be dead? Or worst of all, you become sure you know and you just can’t prove a damned thing? That kind of situation drives any lawman crazy. I know. I’ve had my share.”
“I’ll take my chances on that. If that’s the way it plays out, at least I’ll know, and I’ll make damned sure they know I know it,” said Matt grimly.
“You keep saying they, plural. Why is that? As I recall our guys never even got a glimmer on this one. You got an idea already?” asked the director.
“I’m sure it was at least two killers, maybe three but no more,” said Matt. “I’ve just about memorized those files over the past three years. There was no sign of forced entry and the investigators never figured out for sure how the killer or killers got in. The obvious deduction is that one of the girls knew them and let them in, but there’s no proof one way or the other. The family dog was found in a hallway, its neck broken by a powerful twist.”
The dog was a little mutt named Grouch, Matt recalled. Mary Jane loved animals and would have turned the whole house into a menagerie if her mother had let her, but she doted on Grouch. Did the monster kill her dog in front of her eyes?
“I don’t think Jeannie was tortured for sexual pleasure,” said Redmond quietly. “I think she was tortured for information.”
“Huh?” said the director. “What do you mean?”
“An interrupted burglary has never made much sense here,” explained Redmond. “Nothing was stolen from a house full of valuable small appliances and knick-knacks. Dr. Margaret Mears’ jewelry box was in plain sight, Dr. Andrew Mears’ several expensive cameras were left alone. These guys stayed in the house for a minimum of three hours, yet they didn’t take a dime or a spool of thread, not even so much as a beer from the fridge. They came to kill both those girls, and they came to interrogate Jeannie Arnold about something they believed she knew or something she had done. The killers brought with them the necessary tools to restrain their victims and the instruments of torture to use on Jeannie Arnold. Mary Jane Mears was killed execution style by someone who used masking tape and a pre-prepared ligature as an instrument of death, and I have come to believe that her death was almost incidental, or at least secondary to the main target, Jeannie Arnold. Jeannie was fiendishly tortured by someone who used handcuffs, not masking tape, and she was then killed with a bladed weapon, not strangled. If there was only one perp why didn’t he kill Jeannie with the same ligature he used on Mary Jane? Why use two weapons? If we have a sadist here who tortures women for kicks, then he’s alone in a house with two beautiful young girls whom he has completely in his power. We assume he knows the parents are out of town and he won’t be interrupted. That’s sade heaven. Why not make a meal out of Mary Jane the same way he did Jeannie?”
“I agree,” said Redmond. “Unlikely but possible. I believe that Jeannie Arnold was tortured to make her reveal some information which the actors thought so vital that they were willing to commit a time-consuming, elaborate double murder in the middle of a populous town in order to obtain it.”
“I have no idea on earth,” said Matt. “That’s what I’m going to take six weeks off to try and find out.”
“That is a wild theory, Matt," said the director, shaking his head. “Have you got anything other than supposition to back it up?”
“The timetable of the crime fits my theory,” said Matt. “The medical examiner on the scene gave the opinion that Mary Jane Mears died at approximately eleven o’clock, give or take half an hour. Jeannie Arnold’s time of death is given as approximately one A.M., almost two hours later. Both girls were at the Harvest Ball dance at Chapel Hill High School that Friday night, October 23rd. The dance ended at ten o’clock. Mary Jane stayed on in the parking lot until about twenty past, when both girls drove home to the Mears house in Jeannie Arnold’s car, a 1968 Plymouth Fury...”
“How do you know all that?” asked the director.
“Because I was with her.” Matt hefted the files. “My first contact with law enforcement was being interviewed by the Chapel Hill Police and the SBI about this case at age 17. Fortunately I went straight home after the dance, came in just as the eleven o’clock news was coming on and my father was starting in on his second case of National Bohemian beer, and he went into one of his roaring tirades which woke up my mother, so both of them could vouch for my whereabouts at the crucial time. As the boyfriend of one of the girls I would have been a prime suspect otherwise. As it is I’m sure Daddy has always regretted not finding some way to frame me for the killings.”
“I gather he’s not beyond it. No offense, Matt.”
“None taken. My father is the only man outside the narcotics business I have ever known whom I consider to be genuinely devoid of a single scruple. Anyway, getting back to my point, if Mary Jane was killed about the time I was listening to that sodden bully bellow at me, allowing ten to fifteen minutes for her and Jeannie to drive home, then the killers must have been waiting for them.
“I don’t know. It’s got more holes than a Swiss cheese, Matt,” said the director, shaking his head dubiously.
“Well, I think I can turn it into a nice solid cheddar.”
“If that’s true and these killers are somebody special, and if they’re still around, they might not like you poking a stick at this after all these years,” warned the director. “They might try to get you before you get them.”
“I hope so, Phil,” said Redmond softly, a thin smile playing around his lips which made the director shudder inwardly. “I certainly hope so.”