By Shari Aarlton

There are a few things you need to know before we start. The first is that people ended up dead, however that’s not on me. They brought it on themselves, and what happened was their decision. All I ever did was what any parent would do.

Jimmy’s my son. He’s a good boy, in his first year at University, never caused me a moment’s worry, hard-working and sensible and the perfect son for a soldier’s widow. So when the police phoned I was in shock.

“He’s what?”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Troughton, he’s been arrested for the rape of Michelle McIlroy.”

“Rape?” It was impossible. I’d raised Jimmy to respect women.

“Do you want to come down to the station, Mrs. Troughton? Or do you have a lawyer you could call?”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes with a lawyer. And I’m telling you now, you are not to speak to my son or ask him any questions.”

I slammed the phone down, picked it up again and called my cousin. “Mark? It’s Geraldine. The Westfield police just rang me. I know you aren’t going to believe this because I certainly don’t. They’re arrested Jimmy for rape. Can you come right now? No, pick me up, I don’t think I’m going to be in any condition to drive.”

As I’d promised, we were at the police station in ten minutes. I sat mute as per Mark’s orders while the police laid it out to us. It was incredible. I had one demand after I’d heard everything and I made that one stick.

“Have you given my son a blood test?”

“No, why?”

“Because,” I said steadily. “My son is not a rapist – or a liar. If he can’t remember anything from about halfway through the party on, then it’s because he was drugged.”

“He’d been drinking.”

The big cop was looking at me as if I was a fool, didn’t I know that drunks often pulled blackouts? I did, but I knew too that Jimmy didn’t drink that way. He wasn’t exactly allergic to alcohol, but if he had more than a couple of beers he tended to throw up and he hated that. There was no way he could have drunk enough to black out.

“If you delay allowing a blood test I’ll make an official complaint.”

Mark cut in then. “As will I, sergeant. If this goes to trial it will appear that you had so little confidence in your own case that you delayed a blood test in case it backed up my client’s claim.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll call the police doctor.”

“No offence, sergeant, but we’ll call my own doctor.”

Mark’s doctor was a nice young man, he went in to see Jimmy along with the police doctor and came out again with them talking quietly to each other.

“It could be.”

“The samples should prove it.”

“What are you talking about?” My voice may have been a little shrill.

Mark’s doctor turned to me politely. “Sit down, Mrs. Troughton. We’re talking about the possibility that Jimmy was given or took drugs at the party. He’s exhibiting signs that this could be so, and in view of this – ” he turned back to Mark and waited.

“In view of this,” My cousin said to the sergeant. “There is to be no interviewing of my client until we are sure that any drugs are out of his system and we know what drug he was given. Anything he may have said is invalid since in the view of two doctors his judgment and ability were severely impaired.”

I thought the sergeant looked sour about it and inside I smiled. It was likely that all they had was Jimmy holding his head and saying he couldn’t remember anything, but if we could prove he’d been drugged, that would be an explanation for the court. The police wouldn’t be able to claim he was lying about not remembering.

“Geraldine, go out to the car, I’ll join you in a minute.”

I obeyed, waiting until he reappeared with the doctor in tow. They shook hands, and Mark came to the car, opened the door, got in and sat in silence for a while. He began talking, sounding as if he was rehearsing the police case.

“Richard Kingston had a party at his apartment off campus. Jimmy went because it was a Saturday night, all his work was up to date, and Richard is a good friend who’s just been granted the same scholarship as Jimmy has. A boy called Kenyon arranged a stripper to help celebrate. She arrived, stripped, collected her money and agreed to stay on and have a drink. Is any of that a problem for you, Geri?”

I snorted. “Please! Young men party, they like naked women. What part of that do you think I don’t know about?”

Mark grinned. “Just checking. Okay, so that’s where it gets murky. The girl says that she only had a couple of drinks but she passed out. A couple of the boys dumped her in a room to sleep it off, and she woke up to a man having sex with her. She couldn’t see his face, but he had a birthmark on his forearm. She described it and that fits the birthmark that Jimmy has. She says that her rapist was hitting her while he committed the rape.”

“Did they get her a doctor?”

“Yes. He backs up that much of her story. He says that she had sex, consensual or not he can’t say. She has fresh bruises. Again, he can’t be precise about the time they were inflicted. She says that she passed out again after she was raped, and only woke up properly hours later. She got away from where she was and went to the police.”

I thought. “Mark? Do you believe her or Jimmy?”    

“I believe Jimmy, no question. If he was drugged he might have had sex with her if he genuinely believed she’d consented, but to beat her at the same time? No. Her? She had sex, there’s proof, she had bruises, proof there too. That she was raped and beaten? Maybe. But none of that’s the problem, Geri. The trouble is that this is going to get out.”

I knew he was right. “We can live with the newspapers if we have to.”

Mark took my hand and I knew we were in real trouble. “Geri? It isn’t the media I’m thinking about. The University will suspend Jimmy and probably Richard too. The scholarships Jimmy and Richard were given can be rescinded.”

I stifled a groan. Jimmy had just completed his first year. The University could suspend him, and they probably would so as not to look as if they were condoning rape. My husband had been killed in Afghanistan when Jimmy was younger. Jimmy’s scholarship was based on his father’s death in service.

My cousin was right, it could be taken back, and if the media went for the “violent son of solider father” angle, the army might well rescind the scholarship because not to would make them look bad as well.

Mark was talking again. “They may not have enough proof to convict him, Geri. But they have enough to take it to court. I’ll work free, but even if he’s acquitted the University could refuse to take him back.”

“If he’s acquitted we could sue?”

“We could, but if the army withdraws the scholarship, you can’t sue them.”

I pursed my lips. “Did they test the girl for DNA?”

Mark wrinkled his nose, tapping a fist lightly against the dashboard. “They did, no traces. Whoever had her used a condom.”

“She’s a stripper, is that all she is?”

He looked at me. “You’re thinking that she’s a liar?”

“She is,” I said quietly, “And I’m wondering if she had those bruises before she went to the party. I’m wondering if there are other angles we haven’t seen yet.”

Mark dropped me at my home and left to work on his ideas. I waited until his car left and went out to look into some of my own ideas. I’d start with Michelle McIlroy.

I’ve always had friends in odd places. One of them I went to see was a social worker, and another had a stand on the street corner downtown. Both had information.

“Yes, I had her on my books once. Listen, Geri, you can’t let anyone know I told you this, they’d crucify me, but she’s a nice girl gone wrong.”

I swore I wouldn’t say where I’d heard the information, just so long as I got it.

“Her uncle was molesting her for years, the parents didn’t believe her when she tried to tell them. Finally he was picked up with an underage prostitute, his sister, Michelle’s mother, stood by him, he was acquitted, no proof of actual sex, but about a year later he committed suicide in another city, and I gather from the girl that he’d emailed her parents a note before he did that, saying that ‘he was sorry.’”

“You mean – he admitted to Michelle?”

“If what she told me is true? Yes. Michelle was sixteen by then, she never forgave her parents for not believing her. She went on the streets, made a fair living, smart enough not to hook up with a pimp, but this past year or so she wasn’t making as much.”

“How do you know?”

“She got into a fight with one of the other girls. Ended up on probation and I know her probation officer. She says that the fight started when the other girl called Michelle a ‘has-been’ and asked how much longer she’d be able to afford her nice apartment.”

My other friend said much the same thing and added something else. “Doesn’t help that she’s taken up with a boyfriend who beats her.”

I went home to think it over. Michelle came from a nice middle-class family. Her uncle starts to molest her when she’s about eight. She keeps quiet for years and when she does tell her parents, they don’t believe her. Later they find out she was telling the truth but by then she can’t forgive them. Probably she blames them for not saving her to begin with. Why didn’t they see what was going on? Michelle sets out to punish her parents. She becomes a prostitute, probably rubs that in their faces, she could also hate men by now, and that was another thought – as was the idea that she could need money.

Mark came to tell me about the lab tests that night. “Rohypnol, also known as the date-rape drug. Thank heavens you insisted on having Jimmy checked, because he had traces of it. They checked Michelle too and she had traces of a sedative.”

I stared. “Mark, that doesn’t make sense. I’ve heard about rohypnol, it’s used because whoever is given it usually doesn’t remember anything much of what was done to them. Why give that to Jimmy – and only a sedative to the girl – so she would remember?”

I waited to see what else Mark knew.

“I checked up on the girl, she’s been working as a prostitute since she was sixteen. Good family, nothing against them.” (So, he didn’t know about the uncle.) “Michelle makes a good living, (or about that) and she lives alone, she’s never taken up with a pimp. (And that makes three.) There’s no apparent reason for her to be lying about what happened to her. I’m sorry, Geri, but it does look as if this will go to trial. The University contacted me, Jimmy and Richard are suspended until the outcome of the trial, and I’ve also been notified by the army that they’re withholding the scholarships until such time as they feel they can award them without controversy.”

I said all the right things and saw Mark out. It could be as much as two years until the actual trial. I thought that Mark had been right when he said that they had enough to charge Jimmy but not enough to convict. And with what I knew an acquittal was more likely still, but that two years would ruin my son. I went to see a friend.

“Can you make me look like a tart?”

“You can’t be that short of money.”

I laughed. “I’m not. But there’s something I need to do and I can’t look anything like myself. Can you fix that?”

Sheila could and did. Neither of us mentioning how much she owed me for an alibi I’d given her for her husband three years ago. I left wearing a black wig, my face rounder, my skin sallower, and my figure more obvious. I took my disguise and myself to a reporter of whom I’d heard. A bulldog that paid good money for a salacious story and who once on the trail wouldn’t be put off it by anything.

“I was a friend of Michelle. Yeah, her. An’ I could tell you things.”

“Such as?”

“What’ll you pay?”

We haggled, but I could smell his eagerness and when I met him in a very dimly lit bar later on his money was a nice bonus. I’d stopped to make a couple of phone calls before that too, they might help. My husband always used to say that the wrong PR will do for you, but the right PR can make people believe anything.

“So, her uncle topped himself after confessing to her mum and dad that he’d been molesting her since she was a kid. Lots of middle-class guilt because they didn’t believe her. Girl goes on the streets, and strips as well for private parties. She does have a boyfriend, the violent type that beats her up regularly. She’s losing her looks, less cash coming in, he’s demanding more, and she thinks that if she says she was raped she can twist cash out’a the families.”

I kept to the harsher accent I’d lost a long time ago. “Yeah, thas’ it. If you talk to her, offer a good deal for an article, reckon you could get the truth.”

His voice had a grim edge. He didn’t know that I knew that a woman who lied had ruined his father’s reputation twenty years earlier, but it’s amazing what you can get from the Internet if you run all the names of relatives of someone. All the variations, addresses, tags, anything and everything, somewhere it all exists, just waiting for you to find it.

I took the bills he handed me, slid out of my seat and was gone. The money would be very useful, but what I’d told him could be far more so. I took the mobile I’d bought for cash, and made a few more calls.

It came together. Warned by my phone call that the police were looking for him, the boyfriend ran. The parents, guilt-ridden, confirmed to the reporter that her brother had molested their child and they hadn’t protected or believed her. Michelle was minus her boyfriend, with her parents turning on her to ask what she’d done to them now? And after the reporter (at his most unpleasant) accused her of wanting to punish men for what her uncle had done, she had screamed what could be taken as an admission.

The boyfriend was picked up, charged with being an accessory to attempted blackmail, and – frantic to exonerate himself – testified that any plan of that sort had been hers. He managed to make it sound as if he’d known that she was planning blackmail and perjury, and had left her rather than be implicated.  Michelle took an overdose – whisky and a common sedative – and wasn’t found in time.

Her parents made a public apology on behalf of their daughter, reporters continued to sit on their doorstep while articles about them appeared regularly.  And the police, having thought about who’d been drugged and with what, sweated Kenyon who’d brought the stripper, discovered that the whole thing had been a half-baked plot – with Michelle as a paid accessory – to get Jimmy and Richard’s scholarships rescinded because he was the next in line for one of them. He’d read enough about forensics to know that if he carried out the actions, if the girl lied convincingly, then there should be no evidence against him and no reason for suspicion. He just hadn’t bargained on the police being intelligent. After all, they mostly aren’t that bright in murder mysteries.

Kenyon got a year. The reporter wrote another stinging expose. Everyone accepted that my son was an innocent victim and so was Richard. They went back to University, took their re-offered scholarships and settled in to work. Jimmy was more serious. He’d learned that you may not have done anything but if people believe you have, your reputation can be ruined anyway.

And a month after Michelle killed herself, her parents died when the pilot light blew out on their gas stove. It was brought in as death by misadventure.

And me? I’m fine. Jimmy will get over events, no one believes a word of the original accusations and in time he’ll be a doctor, as he’s always wanted. Three people are dead who brought that on themselves. Then there’s Kenyon. He gets out in a few more months and I wonder – I don’t suppose he’ll take a drink from me, and then invite my bottle and me home, or that his place will have a gas stove... But he could so easily have ruined my son’s life and I can’t allow that. It’s no more than any parent would do.

Shari Aarlton is a pseudonym of popular author Lyn McConchie whose writing credits include 32 books and more than 270 stories, Her most recent book, REPEAT BUSINESS (2014) published in the U.S. by Wildside Press, is a collection of fourteen new cases by repeat customers for Sherlock Holmes. You may read more about Lyn at her website and blog.

Copyright 2014 Lyn McConchie. 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!

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