a mystery novel
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Chapter 35 – Muted Celebration
The gathering in our backyard was raucous and lasted until the wee hours, people coming and going, long after David's good wine and excellently grilled steaks had been consumed, along with a couple of dozen pizzas ordered a few hours later. But every once in a while someone paused for a moment or two with a suddenly somber expression, taken aback in the midst of our festivities by the realization that all this had followed from the horribly brutal slaughter of an innocent woman and her unborn child. At least I chose to believe that was the reason.
Just before dark a cop had arrived with a technician who removed my ankle bracelet and the monitoring equipment; apparently the judge had recovered enough to rescind my confinement order and even effect my immediate release from the electronic leash. It felt wonderful to be able to walk all around the yard rather than stay in the small section of the patio that had fallen within the boundaries of the virtual prison.
Just before leaving, the cop said there was somebody outside who wanted to see me. Intrigued, I walked around to the front. A man was walking back and forth on the sidewalk – Madero. I walked over and we cautiously approached one another. It took him a few seconds to get it out, then, “Man, I'm sorry. Can't believe I got it so wrong!”
“She fooled everybody. When it counted, you reacted so damn fast! I was prepared, right there, but you beat me to it.”
“Glad you got there when you did. She's a lot stronger than she looks. So, you suspected her, too.”
“Nope. Once I figured out it was a cop, I had you pegged for it.”
“Yeah. Those feds – this is just between us, OK? For everybody else, the feds were only there by accident – but they were really there for you, not her. I mean, there had to be a man involved, getting her pregnant. Even when you were fighting over the gun, I thought she was trying to stop you right up until I saw her hand on the handle.”
“Yeah, I guess I see why you'd have picked me. She set us both up pretty good, but I worked with her for three years; I should have seen it.”
“When it counted, you did. How'd you know?”
“Something didn't feel right all along. Couldn't understand how you could have been so careful and so sloppy at the same time. It should have tipped me off that she was letting me take the lead, giving me credit for things she came up with – that wasn't like her. But I never suspected she was actually involved, not until she started going off the rails the last few days. The more the evidence seemed to clear you, the more upset she got; kept muttering, 'He's got to be convicted,' over and over. That’s why I got her to sit with me at the prosecution table. Today, she was sweating something awful and kept patting her piece. She usually had it strapped to her thigh but today it was on her belt at her hip under a jacket. I knew something was wrong and kept a close watch but couldn't believe what was going on, not until she pulled her gun and jumped up yelling.”
“Well, you really came through then. You saved a bunch of lives, especially mine.”
“So now I’ve got to figure out who she’s working for, the vic’s boyfriend. Far as I know, she don’t have a boyfriend herself – always figured she was gay but she never said – so it couldn’t be jealousy. Can’t be money either, cause she got a lot more than she needs. Don’t know where to start.”
“Yeah, well, that’s tomorrow’s problem. Tonight we celebrate, including that nobody died today – mostly thanks to you.”
“No hard feelings, then?” he held out his hand.
“Oh, plenty of hard feelings – but none toward you,” we shook. “Actually, I hoped you'd show up. Come on, join the party; I saved a steak for you, don't know how you like yours so it's medium rare – we can throw it back on the grill if you want.”
“Oh, I don't think so. I'd just spoil things.”
“You kidding? You're the hero of the day, man. A lot of the people here were in the courtroom – they saw what you did. Come on,” and I herded him to the backyard.
I introduced Madero as the hero that he was to the guests. If anyone held a grudge against the man who until today had been the face of the enemy, it was kept private. Even Meg, not the most forgiving person, settled for a sharp glance at me. He talked with a few people, then settled in to his steak with a couple of the Ladies keeping him company (I later learned he was eleven years a widower – how they found out so quickly remains a mystery, one no man will ever solve). He stayed a couple more hours then took his leave. I didn't even miss the steak I'd put aside for tomorrow's dinner. Hardly at all.
* * *
As the night wore on, people gradually left, either with a designated driver or via Uber or Lyft – nobody drives away from our home within hours of even a single glass of wine.
Sometime after midnight, standing off by myself in the corner of our yard closest to Jeanie's, I was caught in one of those somber moments myself when I felt Meg beside me. She linked arms, saying, “I feel guilty for being happy.” I nodded understanding. After a few minutes, she continued, “It's not over, is it?”
“No, not until whoever caused it is in prison. Or, preferably, in the ground.”
“Not unless I don't have a choice. Really, I promise!” to her skeptical look, “Besides, I'd rather see the bastard locked up in a tiny, bare cell on death row,”
“I don't suppose it would do any good to say this isn't really your fight any more.”
“He made it my fight.”
She saw Tanya then, coming toward us. Seeing our intense expressions, she started to turn away but Meg called to her. She walked up, saying, “You guys seem to have lost the party mood. Dark thoughts? I'm having them, too.”
“Yeah, we're remembering what started this. I know Kurt won't let it go until whoever's behind it is caught. We've still got a lot of work to do, but your job is done.”
“The hell it is! I'll have time to devote to it until your case is officially over, which could be Monday,” Tanya said, “After that, I'll only be able to give you a few hours a week, but I'm in until it's really over.”
“You've been great, Tanya,” I replied, “And we really appreciate everything you've done. But Meg's right: we're retired, but you've got a job, other poor people to defend. This really isn't your fight any more,” I borrowed Meg's argument.
“You just try to keep me out!” She stared fiercely at Meg and then at me, then stalked away.
Meg and I stayed together, watching the night for a few minutes more, then rejoined the party. Tomorrow's battles for tomorrow; tonight we would celebrate today's small victory.