JUSTICE DELAYED…

 

By Donna Albrecht

 

 

It was hot at the Fairground and dust devils danced across the dirt field. As she looked around, Sandy remembered the times she and Liz, her best friend and cousin, had been there, showing off 4-H projects and eating everything fried and on a stick they could get their hands on. But, today she was there as Sheriff, and the crowd was here on the invitation of a politician so he could proselytize as the people ate his food and drank his beer.

She couldn’t help but look for Liz, in the crowd; but dead is dead. A vicious attack and rape during their junior year in high school left Liz in a coma that ended in her death. Then, Sandy couldn’t wait to finish high school and leave. She travelled 2,000 miles to college then was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the Army as soon as she graduated.

Now she was back.

This wasn’t her dream job. Her dream was to go from the Army to the Secret Service. But when her frail dad wrote her that her still active mother, Dottie, was waltzing down the aisles of the grocery store and a few days later sang “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins at a friend’s funeral, Sandy realized her father couldn’t handle the situation; she reluctantly asked for and was granted a Hardship Discharge. She moved back in with her parents—in the house where she grew up—in her old room. Sometimes life sucks.

Soon after her arrival, the much-loved Sheriff decided to chase a kid running from a robbery. Sheriff Jessup was a heavy smoker, and at 300 pounds, a heart attack waiting to happen. Chasing the kid finished the waiting. 

The job was open. Sandy hired Olivia to take care of her parents while she campaigned and was elected in June. She was there for her parents, and she was able to use some of her Army MP experience. All good.

“God Bless America!” Steve shouted above the cheering crowd and stepped back so his political advisor, Phil, could get to the podium and add, “Let’s give it up for our next congressman, Steve Wright!” 

Phil left the stage while Steve was still approaching the mic. Standing tall, with his million dollar smile, a distinguished touch of grey at the temples of his perfectly coiffed dark hair, and 6’3” of swaggering bullet-proof attitude, Steve was exactly what the party had been looking for in a candidate. There was even a pretty wife and daughter who showed up and smiled when they were told to.

Phil was definitely not cut from the same cloth. At 5’7”, he had a bad black-dyed comb-over, a grey suit that didn’t quite button across his belly, and a cheap blue-striped tie that hung loosely at the open neck of his shirt.  Phil nodded at the Sheriff’s Deputies who were in front of the stage. They kept most of the crowd back after the speech while Steve shook hands and kissed babies. It was no secret to his staff that while he was politically ambitious, he hated to press the flesh. So when he looked at Phil and rolled his eyes, Phil signaled security and they surrounded Steve and got him back to his shiny motor coach with its big banner, “Make the Wright Vote!”

 

“Whew! I hate going to these things. Can’t we just buy more ads?” Steve asked while pumping a couple of good squirts of sanitizer on his hands.

“Nope, people love to vote for someone they think they know,” said Phil as he leaned back and used a toothpick to clean under his nails.

“Stop that! It’s disgusting.”

“Now, I don’t get regular manicures like you do, Steve.”

“Maybe you should.”

Phil sighed and pushed aside the curtain on the coach window. “Hey, we’re passing Towering Oaks High, the scene of your greatest glory—until the election, come November.”

Steve looked at the big sign in front of the school announcing it was the 1987 State Football Championship Winner. He smiled, “Those were the days! You’d be surprised how many people around here remember me quarterbacking that year.”

“Not really. I get my ear bent about that every day. Hasn’t anybody done anything interesting in this town since then?”

“Phil, Phil, Phil. You have to understand small town football. Everybody went to the game on Friday night. If you weren’t on the team or a cheerleader, you didn’t count.  ’87 was our year; won every single game. They loved us.”

“Well, let’s hope those good feelings last at least through November,” Phil tossed a folder to Steve. “Here’s your speech for the fundraiser tonight. Practice.”

 

 

Back in the office, Sandy plopped down in her wooden swivel chair with sweat-darkened arm rests. The room was designed more for function than looks.  Looking around, she saw a beige linoleum floor with a path worn from her chair to the door. A vintage wood desk set, several unmatched chairs, and old steel files passed for furniture. The walls were an institutional taupe that still showed where Sheriff Jessup’s “grip & grin” pictures had hung. Sandi shrugged her shoulders. Fixing up her office could wait.

Sandy personally thought that too much time had been wasted providing security for the twenty minute political speech, but there were side benefits; getting to see people, like Mrs. Ayers, her sixth-grade teacher.  When her beloved teacher walked up with her head twisted toward the sky, she said, “You certainly grew into a tall one! I thought you’d take more after your mother’s people.”

Shaking her short, curly auburn hair, Sandy said, “Didn’t happen, Mrs. Ayers.”

“Will you come and talk at my class on Career Day this spring?”

“Of course, just let me know when,” and she bent down and gave Mrs. Ayres a hug.

As her old teacher walked off, Sandy surveyed the crowd. They seemed to have come more for the free hot dogs and beer than the candidate, Steve Wright. She vaguely remembered him from high school, a jock with an attitude. Well, he certainly still had the attitude.

 

 

When she took the job, Sandy was surprised to discover that there were areas and rooms that looked like something out of the “Hoarders” show, especially one store room where the door had been stuck shut. Sheriff Jessup hadn’t been much for maintaining case files, and when the station got computers in 1995, no one had the guts to go back and try to enter all the existing files. Time passed, people moved on, and the hinges on the door rusted in place.

After trying to ignore it for three weeks, Sandy had two of her volunteer staff, Jim and Alec break open the door and do their best to bring some sort of order to it all. The back corner was occupied by one of those old, huge chest freezers nearly buried under cardboard boxes so old they were partially collapsed on themselves. When they cleared off the top of the freezer, it was grimy and scattered with mouse droppings.

“Hey,” Jim, an eager volunteer with plans for a career in law enforcement hollered, “this thing is still plugged in! And the top is frozen shut!”

 Sandy heard the commotion and came in. “Unplug it,” she said. “Maybe tomorrow we can get it open.” Freezers were often used for storing evidence. In fact, there was one in the evidence storage room, but it was empty except for the Weight Watchers frozen meals the clerk liked. The idea that this had been sitting unopened, probably for years, did not make her eager to see what might be inside.

 

 

Steve preened in front of the mirror. Of course the new tux was exquisite. Wilkes Bashford only sells the best. He glanced behind him in the mirror and saw Cindy, his wife, pulling a purple cocktail dress from her closet.

“Put that disgusting thing back,” he said as he pointed to the offending garment. You got that at Penney’s didn’t you?”

“Well, yeah,” she replied defensively.

“How do you expect me to raise serious money tonight if you look like you borrowed your dress from the maid? Put on the long silver dress.”

“But Steve, you know it’s hot to wear and it’s warm out tonight,” she whined.

He looked at her pointedly and then down to the yellow-green bruise on her upper arm. “You need to look like I’m worth it to the donors and you need to cover up that damn bruise. It’s a fundraising party, not a pity party.”

Cindy lowered her eyes and switched the dresses. It wouldn’t do to have him get upset just before the fundraiser. Some party, she thought. She wasn’t dumb, she knew that he was taking her to keep up his “Family First” image. Her job was to stand near—but not too near—the big man and keep a loving smile on her face. No one would actually have a conversation with her; they only wanted to talk with Steve.

Once she was finished dressing and had passed his inspection, Cindy went down the hall to say goodbye to their daughter, Allison, a junior at Towering Oaks High. “Ali, sweetie, be sure to finish your homework and get to bed on time, it’s a school night. There’s a veggie pizza in the freezer for dinner.”

“Whoop,” said Ali flatly and looked up from her iPad. Glancing at her mom, she added disdainfully, “Long sleeves, huh?”

Cindy turned her head as if she’d been slapped. It was bad enough that her husband hit her; Ali had always heard it and as a teenager she’d lost all respect for her mom.

“Driver’s here.” Steve shouted from downstairs. Cindy looked back again to her beloved daughter’s cold eyes, and left.

 

The evening was every unpleasant thing Cindy had expected. She recognized that the champagne was expensive, and figured the money spent just on it tonight could have kept the food pantry for the poor open for over a month. Her only fun had been listening to some of the donors’ trying to convince Steve that they were very important people and he should be grateful for their money. If—no she had to remember to think and say—“when” he gets elected, these same people, she knew, would be the first in line to tell him which legislation he should back, and whose charity events to show up at.

Driving home in the back of the limo, Steve looked at the checks and smiled. He’d give them to Phil in the morning, but it felt good to hold them for a while.

He turned to Cindy and his demeanor changed. “Did you have to pick up that shrimp with your fingers like a hick? Everyone else used a knife and fork. Can’t you at least pay attention to how others are eating and try to get it right?”

“Sorry,” she turned her head away.

“Yea, you are, but I’m stuck with you.”

Cindy didn’t even try to respond. Their high school romance, the football star and the head cheerleader, (how classic!) By the time she told him she was pregnant in August, he was ready to leave for college on a football scholarship. It was a religious college and when he confided in his coach, Steve was told to “put a ring on it” right away or lose his free ride. So they married. He spent four years getting an education and basking in football glory. She spent the same four years taking care of a colicky baby and working at the Piggly-Wiggly. Among other things, he’d always held her trapping him with the pregnancy and lack of education against her—and found a million ways to throw it in her face.

When they got home, he wordlessly poured himself a stiff scotch, grabbed a dog treat from the jar under the bar, and headed into his office followed closely by the golden lab he’d picked up at the animal shelter when he’d decided to run. A family looks good with a fluffy dog.

           

 

When Sandy got to the office in the morning, Jim was already hard at work on the freezer. “I just love a mystery,” he said eagerly. Slender with his dark hair worn in a short flattop, he looked a lot younger than his 20 years. He went to lift the top. The rubber gasket had deteriorated into a crispy mess and dark bits of it crumbled to the floor as the top screeched angrily at being opened.

There wasn’t much to see. Thick ice coated the sides and the bottom. They could see two flats of bottled water, a pack of hot dog rolls that crumbled to dust when Jim touched them, and a partial bag of hot dogs. Under the water flats, they could just make out something that looked like an old paper grocery bag.

“Okay if I get everything out so I can empty the chest, Sheriff?” asked Jim.

“Why would you want to do that?” Sandy asked.

“Well, if I let it thaw out, whatever’s in the brown stuff might get ruined. Maybe it’s something important.”

“Unlikely.”

“It’s that or I have to go sweep out the car barn and it’s heading up to 105 degrees out there.”

“Gotcha. Have fun chopping ice.”

Sandy grabbed a cup of coffee from the break room and headed back to her desk to review the reports for the last few years as a way to get to know her job better. June had been bad for rural mailboxes. She smiled. So it was still a local tradition for graduating seniors to play mailbox baseball.

No suspects were arrested—another local tradition.

There were all the usual car crashes, medical emergencies, domestic disputes, and work for the courts; pretty much what she’d been told to expect. The coffee was down to cold dregs when Jim ran in her office, “Hey, look at this!” He held out the paper bag from the freezer and she grabbed for it just before he put in on his desk.

“There’s still frost on this, let’s put it on the counter in the break room,” she said leading the way. Once it was down on the gold spotted Formica countertop, she looked at it carefully. Someone had taken the time to tape it securely, but there was no writing on it.

“This is odd,” she mumbled. “Probably more picnic stuff.” Sandy grabbed a pair of red-handled scissors and cut carefully through the bag. Holding the end, she shook out the contents. “Shit,” she said quietly when she saw what slid out. There were two containers, a small rape kit and a 12” x 18” manila envelope that had tape all over it. Under the “Freezer” label was handwritten information. It was dated October 23, 1987, 11:15 pm.  The incident number was 87-052901, victim Liz G. There was a list of ten evidence envelopes inside and was signed and sealed by Sheriff William Jessup.

Stunned, Sandy let out a low whistle. She knew that getting rape kits analyzed had formerly been a slow and sometimes haphazard process until recently when the public and lawmakers had made it a priority. She knew old unanalyzed kits still popped up from time to time. But she’d never expected to find anything like that here—and especially not this one. Liz G. Wow. She scratched her head and looked at the box under it.

“What’s that?” the ever curious Jim asked.

Sandy regained her composure and turned to him. “Jim, you’ve done a real service here. This is an old kit from a rape investigation from 1987. Everyone in town thought it had been sent off for analysis, and after asking about it for a couple of years, most forgot about it.”

“Is it still any good after all those years?”

“If it was kept frozen the whole time, probably yes.”

Wide-eyed, Jim picked up the remains of the paper bag. A sheet of white paper slipped out. “Does this mean anything?” he said picking it up from the floor.

“It’s the Evidence Transfer Form,” she said without emotion. “The fact that it’s in here means it was never filed.”

She sucked in air. Apparently Jessup had decided not to take a chance it could solve the crime. After all, the girl died; why ruin the lives of the football players too? Or was this secret a way of guaranteeing campaign funds for re-elections?

Looking at Jim, she thanked him again, “and, can you get me the state lab on the line?”

A minute later, Jim poked his head into her office. “Got it, his name is Greg.”

She hit her speakerphone button. “Greg, this is Sheriff Sandy Blaine.”

“Heard about your election, congratulations,” said Greg. “What can I do for you?”

“We just found evidence in the freezer of a rape that took place in 1987. Can you do anything with it?”

“Put it back on ice. Tomorrow, I have someone picking up evidence not far from you. I’ll have him pick it up sometime after 2 pm. Can you dig out the Evidence Transfer Sheet?”

“Not a problem. Thanks.”

“Any rush?”

“The vic was left in a coma and died from her injuries about four months after the rape. She was my cousin.”

 

 

That evening when Sandy got home, she sat at the kitchen table with her head in her hands. Olivia, came over, “Looks like you had a hard day, can I get you something?”

“I’d sure love one of your special coffees.”

Olivia smiled, “Coming right up!” She went to the cabinet and got out a little pod of dark-roast coffee for the machine, the Baileys Irish Cream, and the whipped cream can from the fridge. Three minutes later she put the steaming mug of goodness in Sandy’s hands.

She took a sip, “Thanks, I needed this.”

“Want someone to talk to?” Olivia asked. “I’m a good listener, and your mom is in the dining room dancing to Moon River with Andy Williams. I’ve got the phonograph set up so the record keeps repeating itself.”

“He’s dead, right?”

“Not in her world. I’ve got the sound down low so it won’t wake up your dad. I told her it was more romantic that way and she giggled.”

“I’m not ready to talk details, but let’s just say a blast from the past came back and bit me today. Bit me real hard,” she smiled weakly. “Before you leave, could you get Dad up from his nap?”

         

 

After dinner, Sandy got her mom settled in front of the TV; who knew you could still get reruns of Lawrence Welk? She and her dad sat at the kitchen table and played Scrabble.

“Your turn, Sandy,” he said.

“Oh.” She shook her head to clear it.

“Not really concentrating on the game. You okay?”

“Sorry, I’m too distracted tonight.”  

“Let’s go watch the show with Dottie. I think I hear the Lennon Sisters.”

“Why not.”

 

 

Sandy was gratified that the crime lab had pushed the old evidence to the top of their pile and there was enough evidence for them to work with. The results came back in record time. She looked at the report and whistled. Liz would have justice… finally.

There were positive results for three members of the 1987 Championship Football Team. Number one on the list was Steve Wright.

She got an arrest warrant then called his campaign headquarters to get his schedule. His lunch at the Rotary was over, and he was back at good old Towering Oaks High leading an assembly on government. She chuckled to herself, arresting him there would certainly be a lesson for the kids, but it really wasn’t the best choice.

There was going to be a cocktail party for donors at 5:30 pm, and that felt like a better time. Sandy took two deputies, Linda and Ralph, to back her up. They drove over the country club where the party was being held, and went in together.

They were barely in the ballroom with its bright crystal chandeliers and dark red carpet when Phil saw them approaching and tried to cut them off; “Private party.”

“We’re here on business.”

Phil motioned to an area outside the room, “Perhaps we can discuss it over here.”

“WE are not going to discuss anything. I’m here to see Steve Wright, and there he is,” she nodded toward the big windows overlooking the golf course. “Excuse me.” The Sheriff stepped forward.

Sputtering, “But…” Phil realized he wasn’t going to stop her, so got out of her way.

Walking up to Steve, she saw his wife trying to hide behind him. Sandy looked him in the eye, “Steve Wright, I’m arresting you for the murder of Liz Garrison.”  As she Mirandized him, her deputy, Ralph, stepped up and put the handcuffs on Steve.

He smiled. “I don’t think so.”

Sandy said, “We just got back the evaluation of the rape kit, and your semen was found in her body.”

“I raped her, I’ll give you that much,” Steve said casually, with a hint of a grin. “But the statute of limitations expired years ago. I didn’t hurt her. She was knocked out when we found her. We thought she was drunk and we were kids who recognized an opportunity when we saw it.”

“So she just happened to have a brain injury? How do you explain that?”

Steve snickered. “Come on out here honey. Tell the nice Sheriff how you were jealous of Liz and you got someone to tell her I was waiting in the locker room. When she came in, you were waiting for her with a barbell from the weight room, and,” he shrugged his shoulders, “you sure taught her a lesson.”

Cindy shrank into herself and collapsed to the floor. “Our deal…”

“Our deal was that I’d marry you and give the kid a name and you wouldn’t tell anyone about the rape. My side was to keep your secret about being a murderer so I could play college football and have a political career,” he spat out. “Now that my career is probably shot because of you, there’s no reason to hide your filthy secret anymore.

“And Sheriff, while the statute of limitations has expired for rape, I’m pretty sure that lying in wait and causing fatal injuries is Murder 1—No expiration date at all,” he added smugly. “Now take off these cuffs.”

“Nope,”

Steve’s head jerked over to her. “Why not?”

“You just voluntarily made statements that the D.A. is likely to decide make you an accessory after the fact. We hadn’t even asked you a question.”

Looking down at the sorry mess that was Cindy, Sandy asked, “Do you have anything you want to say?”

Cindy looked up with red eyes and tears washing her makeup down her face. “I want a lawyer.”

“Smart girl.” Sandy looked up, “Okay, guys. Put them both under arrest; her for murder, him for accessory after the fact. The D.A. can sort it all out.”

As she headed back to the squad car, Sandy felt like a brick wall had fallen off her shoulders. Her deputies would take care of the booking, and it was time for her to go home to tell dad.

Driving along, she spoke out loud to Liz, as she had often over the years. “I got’em! We’re finally going to get some justice for you.” And she began humming a favorite show tune from “Wicked” that always reminded her of Liz, “… because I knew you, I’ve been changed for good.”




Donna Albrecht is a San Francisco-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. This is her third story published by OMDB. She can be reached at Donna@Albrechts.com


Copyright 2017 Donna Albrecht. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

Return to Fiction.
Return to Over My Dead Body! Online.