a mystery novel
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Chapter 42 – Show and Tell
Waiting, all damn day waiting. Man, that was torture. I may not have mentioned it, but I hate waiting. And I hate even more when an operation is going down and I have no idea what's happening.
* * *
Finally CJ and Tanya arrived together close to midnight. (They better not have a thing going, or two Ladies are going to be very disappointed!) And, just like that, it was over. As in all over. And it turned out we had it right, all completely right. Except, of course, for the most important part.
The ADA had played it perfectly. Gorman was shaken by the failed hit on her, but still holding out – didn't believe her partner put out the contract, that he dared to cross her, not with what she had on him. She had plenty of other enemies, many of them in jail with her. She didn't want to even discuss a deal, only wanted to talk to the ADA about keeping her segregated from general population, how all the other prisoners were out to get her, about the stink it would make if she got hurt or killed on his watch.
He said that, while she had reason to be concerned about other inmates since she’d put a lot of them there, the way she ranted on and on about it, and her expressions, led him to believe she was losing it. Either that, or laying the groundwork for a plea of diminished capacity. That opinion was supported by the guard reporting that she had been having nightmares, screaming at all hours. The guard had for years witnessed inmates having real nightmares and those faking for one reason or another, and was convinced Gorman was the former.
The ADA told her he's make sure she'd be segregated to keep her safe until the trial and he wasn't offering a deal anyway since he already had a confession from her partner, who'd been caught with the evidence and he showed her the photo. She went white, then red, then purple and started screaming, “That Bitch! That stupid fucking Bitch!” over and over.
Then she gave it all up. According to her, Lester was Jeanie's lover, but he didn't arrange her murder, didn't even know about it till it was done. And Gorman was indeed Lester’s mistress, and Snowton’s also, but not at all as we suspected. The killing was Snowton, all Snowton – and, of course, Gorman.
Snowton found out about the pregnancy when Lester wanted money above his generous allowance to buy Jeanie off. She didn't care about Lester’s affairs, as long as he was discrete, but the stupid bastard had to go and knock that dumb bitch up, and then the crazy bitch wants to keep the brat no matter how much money she's offered! While pretending to work on getting the money for the brat’s trust fund without leaving a paper train, she realized that, once the baby came, there would be no way to keep that kind of scandal hidden, not with her political plans and the way the media pokes into every crevice in a candidate's background. The betrayed wife sympathy bit only goes so far – after all, Bill didn't get Monica pregnant!
So the bitch had to go, along with her unborn brat and any evidence of its father. Without actually saying so, Gorman suggested that it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that the careless father himself might have suffered a fatal accident or medical problem after the dust cleared from Jeanie’s murder. Widow’s get a lot of sympathy points.
Gorman had long ago tied her wagon to Snowton and, realizing that the threat to Snowton’s dreams threatened her own, the two of them agreed that both Jeanie and the fetus must be destroyed. The threat had to be eliminated and Gorman was the one who had to eliminate it herself to be sure there was no trail leading back to them (So, how’d that work out for you gals?). Seems they'd been – not lovers, not sure what to call it, say 'intimate partners' – for years, ever since they met while Gorman was still in school. Snowton's marriage was a sham, a cover. A woman president, maybe, but the voters weren't ready for – well, they'd call her a lesbian but that was only partially right. Regardless, however, the people weren't yet ready for whatever she was to be president, if they knew. So Lester was her beard and, in return for her financing and advancing his career and providing him with a lifestyle no judge should have, he gave her the illusion of a stable family and normalcy she needed to further her ambitions.
Being unsure of Lester’s reaction, she and Gorman decided not to tell him until the murder was a fait accompli. And it was Gorman’s idea to frame me, as a gift to Lester to lessen his loss. She confirmed that Lester had selected the house on our street for Jeanie: he’d been watching our neighborhood and when that house went up for sale he bought it with the hope of sooner or later having the opportunity to wreak vengeance upon the bastard who had spoiled his perfect record and snatched a federal judgeship from him. At the same time he’d had the idea to buy the back-to-back houses and construct a private pathway to his girlfriend’s home. It took him a while to arrange for a straw buyer to obtain both properties, but money talks.
He also later rented an apartment half a dozen blocks away – apparently, the ‘place in the neighborhood’ that Jeanie had been so pleased to visit. That apartment seemed to be used primarily for assignations with a series of temporary girlfriends besides Jeanie: ‘Hey lady, your husband is cheating on us.’
Once he had her confession recorded, the ADA told Gorman about the faked photo. She bitched and moaned, then started berating herself for falling for the ruse. Realizing she was caught and even Snowton's money couldn't buy her out of it, she gave up the location of the real fridge with the sample of the fetus preserved inside. If she was going down, she wasn't going down alone. The cops retrieved it and sent it for priority DNA testing – all they needed was a sample from Lester.
The cops picked up Lester and Snowton and questioned them separately, with a cop running back and forth from one room to the other, ostensibly whispering to each interrogator what the other one had extracted. As soon as the pair realized they were suspects, they both lawyered up, but then ignored their lawyers' advice to keep silent.
When the cops told Lester about the sample Gorman saved and showed him the warrant to take blood and hair samples from him (ironically signed by judge Feldstein), he knew he was done. The two women were sure to turn on him and his only chance to escape the death penalty was to put it on his wife and Gorman. Within an hour, he and Snowton were each screaming about how it was all the other's fault. By midnight they had both been arrested for murder. The genetic paternity test results would be anticlimactic. It wasn't certain Lester knew about the killing before the fact, but he surely did afterward, and contributed to all the embarrassment that encompassed everyone involved so nobody cared much about fine distinctions. Nobody that mattered, anyway.
Over the next few days we eventually got all the essentials of the case and presented most of it during our final media conference, held jointly with the ADA. As I said, turns out we had gotten it almost right – almost, that is, except for that single important detail. Most of the story came from Gorman, distilled from a rambling, convoluted diatribe: for such an organized killer, she was a remarkably disorganized narrator. Or maybe working on her possible diminished capacity defense.
However, she had also kept a diary with details of all of her interactions with Lester and Snowton going back twenty years, including separate audio and video recordings of the most incriminating and embarrassing sessions. That diary and the recordings were in the cloud with her other files and all of them had security that the police couldn't access – she was, after all, a computer expert. She went back and forth with the ADA, first promising to give him access to her files then imposing impossible conditions, ranging from being allowed to have a private, internet-connected computer in prison to being housed in the same cell with Snowton. Death row cells are single occupancy.
The weatherman said she was really good: took the people he farmed it out to nearly half a day to hack her files. There are experts, and then there are EXPERTS. He remarked on one weird thing: Gorman kept the audio and video files in totally separate cloud accounts, each with a distinct encoding process. It took me a minute and then I said, “Man, that’s not only weird, it’s very smart: California’s a two-party state.”
“So? Oh, wait: that way she could use the video files in court if she needed to. Real smart.”
“Yeah, in California, unless there’s a warrant, the audio recordings are illegal without the consent of every person being recorded. If they were connected with the video files, then all of them would be inadmissible: fruit of the poisoned tree rule or some such. So it might be good if the cops never get the key for the audios.”
“Well, I’m not about to give it to them, and I strongly suggest you don’t.”
“Copy that. Another thing: judge Lester seems to know a hell of a lot about me; he must have done some on-line searches but that never got flagged – why?”
“Yeah, after we talked I wondered about that, too. When he first started searching, years ago, the monitors backtracked and found out he was the judge in that speeding case you had. They figured that was legit, just a judge checking into one of his own cases, and logged him as harmless for your account. Later every time a search connected to you traced back to his ID they saw the harmless designation and dropped it.”
“Nobody thought it was weird, a judge checking into a twenty year old traffic case?”
“Apparently not. Actually, we’ve made a few changes: now harmless designations all have an expiration date assigned to them and even within that time more than two repeats get the whole sequence reexamined. Plus we don’t cross reference harmless between couples any more. What can I say, we live and learn.”
“Glad to have furthered your education. Out.”
* * *
Strangely enough, the police got an anonymous tip with the necessary decrypting keys for Gorman’s accounts. All but one of them. I didn’t bother checking out the files myself, just in case the police computer guys stumbled across any traces I left and started wondering how I managed to hack what they couldn’t. However, CJ came by a couple of days later and filled me in on the salient points.
“One thing that really puzzles me, CJ, is how did Lester even know where I live? I keep a pretty low profile, and the public records show the house and even our car, indirectly, are both owned by the trust in Meg’s maiden name.”
“Damn right you keep a low profile! Frustrated the hell out of Gorman. Don’t suppose you’re ever going to tell me about that; probably have to kill me afterward if you did.”
“Naw, I’m just your average paranoid.”
“Yeah, right. OK, Gorman’s diary says after he lost the federal judgeship, Lester had her look for any information on you. She used his account to search legal records and found some lawsuit your wife was involved in, traffic accident I think, and obtained the case file. The insurance papers showed the car was owned by a trust; Gorman learned the trust also owned a house and figured out that’s where you lived even though nothing was in your name.”
“Son of a bitch! Those records were supposed to be sealed, but I guess that doesn’t mean much when a judge is doing the research, and his looking into an accident trial wouldn’t have set off any alarms: just appeared to be normal judicial business. But, damn, that bastard was obsessed!”
“No shit. Another thing, he also tried to buy the house behind Rogers so he could make a doorway in the back wall and just walk over, but the old lady that lives there wouldn’t sell no matter what he offered. Says she’s got all the money she needs; she’s nearly blind and not about to learn how to navigate a new house at her age. He was afraid sooner or later he’d be spotted driving on your street so he bought the house next to Rogers and the one behind it and made that passage so he could drive right through and then make a quick turn into her garage without being seen.”
“Seen by whom? Who’d care?”
“Gorman said he was afraid you’d recognize him; figured you were as obsessed with him as he was with you, and that’s why you ratted him out for that federal job.”
“Man, he’s more paranoid than I am! Ratted him out? Hell, I hadn’t thought about the son of a bitch in twenty years, didn’t even remember his name. Or what he looked like – wouldn’t have recognized him if I’d tripped over him.”
“Yeah, well, nobody ever said being obsessed makes a person rational. If it did, half of us homicide cops would be out of business.”
“So this bastard decides to off his girlfriend and frame me, all cause he screwed up a traffic ticket appeal twenty years ago? That is one sick puppy! What do you think – did he really set it up, or his wife like Gorman said, or both of them?”
“Damned if I know for sure. Or care. When she isn’t bouncing off the walls, Gorman’s getting coy now, waiting to see if the prosecutor will offer her a deal, take death off the table if she pins it on whichever one they want most. Maybe even buy herself a chance at parole somewhere down the line; that ain’t gonna happen, but she might avoid the hot shot. Before she said he didn’t know till the deed was done but all three of them were involved at some point, and they tried to use me to put you on death row. Hell, he even arranged to be judge on your case, just to seal the deal, until you recused his sorry ass. All of them deserve whatever they get, and there won’t be any tears from me if they all end up a threesome on the gurney.”
“Guess if that happens, we’ll have to hold a dry-eye party!”
“Yeah, just make sure you rent a big-ass hall!” We both laughed at that.