a mystery novel
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Chapter 39 – Vindictive Ex
Meg and I were jolted from sleep at an ungodly hour by an eight-point-two magnitude earthquake. Or somebody pounding that hard on our front door while simultaneously ringing our doorbell nonstop. It was Tanya, of course.
She rushed past our half-awake bodies, gushing words. Neither of us was in any condition to follow what she was saying until Meg put on coffee and we got her calmed down with all of us at the kitchen table. “Now… is… this… slow… enough… for… you… bloody… vampires?”
“Don't be a smartass,” my wife replied, “Besides, ‘bloody vampires’ is redundant.” My wife regains her mental acuity much more quickly after waking than I do. I’ve wondered if it’s pure coincidence that most of our serious discussions take place at such times.
“OK, OK, but this is good! I finally tracked down the woman who used to clerk for Lester up north when he was first made a judge. She's been married and divorced twice, now managing a skiing lodge in Vermont of all places.”
“I didn't know traffic judges have clerks,” Meg inserted.
“You kidding? In those little towns they're the main source of revenue – surprised they don't give them private chefs and valets. Now be quiet and listen. She clerked for him a few years until he got promoted to the position down here. She said he was having an affair with a woman in the courthouse; she wouldn't say whom – pretty sure it was actually her, but she didn't say and I didn't want to piss her off by asking again – and that woman was expecting to be asked to move down here with him.”
“Wasn't he already married then?” Meg asked as she got the coffee and cups, and a Coke for me, “To Snowton?”
“Yeah, but that didn't seem to bother him. Anyway, he allegedly did move a girlfriend here soon afterward, but a different one. The clerk says she suspected it was someone from one of his cases, a special case but she couldn't say anything else. The way she said it indicated there was no love lost between them, but I couldn't get her to tell me more.”
“'Special case?' That's got to be Jeanie's!” I said.
“Sure, but we still have no proof. I think the clerk wants to tell me more, but she has to work herself up to it. She's still frightened of Lester, and probably the FBI, too: they must have scared everybody pretty well if none of this leaked in twenty years – courthouses are like sieves!”
“Tell her she doesn't have to be scared: give us something to connect him with Jeanie and he'll at least go away for life!” I exclaimed, “And the FBI will give her a medal if she helps get Jeanie’s killer.”
“I did but she's not convinced he won't wriggle out of it. I asked her if she knew anything about Lester, anything that could help us get evidence of his affair with Jeanie. She described a few of his characteristics, but the only one we didn't already know is that he's a real snoop. She said he even went through her purse and her drawers, then backed up and said she meant in her desk at work but I think it was really the dresser and desk at her house.”
“I don't see how that helps us,” Meg replied.
“'Everything you learn about your opposition is valuable, even if it doesn't appear so at the time,'” I unconsciously quoted a mentor from long ago.
“This is not the time for philosophical observations by Sun Tzu or some old zen master of yours!” Meg retorted. It was precisely the time, but it seemed imprudent to push the matter.
Tanya finished her coffee in a gulp and dashed out, muttering about having to prepare for a status conference or some such on Monday. Meg and I went back to bed, but neither of us slept any more that day.
* * *
Two mornings later it was a repeat of Saturday. Meg put on the coffee even before I opened the front door.
“She called back!” Tanya exclaimed as she rushed in, “Lester's old clerk, she called back. Remembered something that she thought might help us.” Seeing she had our rapt attention, she continued, “She said Lester had this habit that when he was reading papers, he'd lick his finger each time he turned a page. It was automatic – she didn't think he even realized he was doing it most of the time.”
“So?” Meg replied.
“So, saliva contains DNA! Anything he read at Jeanie's house, any book or catalog or the like, would have his DNA on it!” I said
“Oh, I see. You know, her girlfriend, the one who found her, in the report of the interview she was asked to look through the house for anything that was missing. Besides the bedclothes and all Jeanue’s panties and a few other things, girlfriend said she thought Jeanie had had a lot more books in the bookcases, although she wasn't absolutely positive. I'll bet Lester told Gorman what books he had touched and she took them.”
“Yeah, they would probably have his fingerprints as well as his DNA on them,” Tanya said.
“They'd planned it for a while – remember when they got my Coke can – so Lester probably made a list every time he visited her.”
“You know, he probably was careful about fingerprints if he snooped through her private things, maybe when she was sleeping or in the shower. But he might not have realized he was leaving saliva on any papers he leafed through, not if licking his finger was an unconscious habit,” Tanya mused, “I'm sure the cops had the crime lab check those things for prints, but they might not have expected saliva there.”
“What, so if there’s no fingerprints he probably wore rubber gloves: they've got powder on them, talcum or corn starch or something – who's going to lick that and not realize it?” Meg asked.
“You're probably right, but it's still something to check. Maybe he used the gloves dentists use: they don’t have powder. Think you could persuade the cops to check all that kind of stuff for DNA, Tanya? If you hinted, they might, even thinking it could be mine. One last chance to salvage their reputations.”
“Better chance if the suggestion didn't come from me,” she replied thoughtfully, already halfway out the door for her status conference..