By Sherry Lawrence

"Some people have. Some people have not. Me? I used to have," Ned lamented to the uniformed officer standing near the door of the interview room at the local police headquarters.

"I think you should wait for your lawyer," the plain-clothed detective seated across the table from Ned advised wearily.

"Wait for that shyster? He's only going to tell me what I already know. I'm screwed," Ned retorted angrily. "Ain't nothing he can do for me now. I've done 'screwed the pooch' as they say. Or the cat, in this case."

"Still, I would advise you to say nothing more until your lawyer is present," the detective repeated his caution.

"You going to tape this so-called interview? Interrogation is more like it. Well go ahead. Turn it on. All you got me for, maybe, is animal abuse — make that attempted or alleged — however those fancy lawyers put it. I'll admit it. I did try to kill the cat. Damn cat."

"Sir, please stop talking. Would you like some coffee?" the detective nodded to the uniformed officer at the door. The officer turned and twisted the door handle.

"I don't want any stinking vending machine coffee. A chilled glass of Chardonnay would be nice, but I don't suppose you have any of that," he remarked snidely.

The uniformed officer returned to his post at the door.

"No, I suppose not.

"You'd get more confessions you know with a nice glass or two of wine and some decent food to snack on."

Ned gave a hopeful glance to the uniformed officer at the door.

"No, I thought not," he sighed.

"Mr. Barnes," the detective interjected. "If you would like a sandwich, we can arrange that, while we wait for your lawyer."

"From a vending machine? Three week's old if it's a day? No, thank you. I'll be going home as soon as my lawyer gets here to sort this out anyway."

As if on cue, the door to the interviewing room swung open and a short, rotund man waddled into the room. From his snake skin cowboy boots to his bolo tie with the large chunk of turquoise set in the silver clasp, he looked like an actor playing the part of a sleazy Southern lawyer. How much of it was an act and how much was real was difficult to discern.

"Geez, it's hotter than Hades in here. What are you trying to do — sweat a confession outta my client?" He laughed heartily at his own joke. No one else in the room responded to the humor. He swiped at the beads of sweat cascading down his face with a wrinkled handkerchief, dabbed at the back of his neck and under his double chin then stuck out a sweaty, beefy hand across the table in the detective's direction.

"Ed Barnes," he announced. "No relation to Ned, here." His belly wobbled as he chuckled.

"I understand my client here waived his right for representation." Ed Barnes gave Ned a withering look.

"I did," Ned confirmed.

"Well, he's going to un-waiver it. Aren't you Ned?"

Ned shifted in the straight backed wooden chair and clasped his hands together on the table in front of him.

"I guess so," he replied.

"No guessing. He does so."

Ned appeared resigned to being bossed around by his lawyer. He was a man of slight build; short, with a pale complexion, wire-rimmed glasses, and thinning grey hair. He had that "hen-pecked husband" look, except that he'd never married. He'd spent his entire life living in the same house with his mother in the outskirts of Ruidoso.

Ruidoso, New Mexico was a playground for the rich. Nestled in a valley with spectacular mountains and National forest nearby, it was a year-round vacation destination. Golf courses, horseracing, skiing, and entertainment attracted the wealthy to this small town of 8,000 plus inhabitants; much like Aspen, Colorado except Ruidoso made room for the poorer folks to live there as well and mingle with the rich.

Ned Barnes wasn't poor, but he wasn't rich either. His mother was. Or had been. But she held on tightly to every penny until she died three months ago.

"Ned wants to be represented in this matter and have me present during questioning," the lawyer announced loudly — a bit too loudly — in the small interview room.

"Tell him, Ned," he commanded his client. "It's not like on those TV cop shows. You gotta tell them you want to lawyer up."

"I want to 'lawyer up,'" Ned intoned without much enthusiasm.

"I'm telling you," the lawyer continued, "It's not like on TV. The right to talk or not talk lies with the defendant not the attorney."

* * *

The detective switched on the tape recorder. Ned shifted nervously in his chair.

"For the record, this interview is commencing at fifteen-thirty hours on July 20th 2011. Present in the room are Ned Barnes, his lawyer Ed Barnes — no relation — Officer Kurt Dunston, and myself, Detective Roberts. Mr. Barnes. Mr. Ned Barnes. Have you been advised of your rights?"

Ned nodded his head in agreement. His lawyer nudged him. "You gotta say it out loud. The tape can't see you shaking your head."

Then why don't they use a video recorder, Ned thought. They'd see me shaking my head then alright. But he spoke only one word, softly. "Yes." It was barely a garbled whisper. He cleared his throat and spoke more forcefully. "Yes," he answered.

"You understand why you're being questioned?" the detective asked.

"Yes," he whispered.

"Please speak up for the tape," the detective instructed.

"Yes," Ned repeated loudly and clearly. "I killed a bunch of my ditzy mother's cats. Or tried to."

"Allegedly," the lawyer interjected leaning towards the whirring tape recorder. "Allegedly."

"Oh, I did it all right. Twenty-six cats and I got rid of twenty-three. No, twenty-four. I have two to go. They're hiding somewhere but I'll find them. They'll not mock me for long. I swear they won't!" Ned was becoming more animated the longer he talked. His lawyer patted him on the arm, signaling he should calm down.

"Wait for the detective to ask you a question. Don't tell him anything he doesn't ask you about directly. I can't advise you if you keep rambling and telling things before you've been asked," the lawyer cautioned.

"It's alright, Mr. Barnes. We can talk about the cats first, if you like." The detective spoke calmly, hoping to lull the suspect into a sense of security. No sense threatening the man or riling the lawyer. The suspect seemed willing enough to talk and the detective was experienced enough to know when to guide a suspect towards a particular point of interest and when to let the suspect talk his way around the details of the crime before narrowing the conversation. Sometimes you get more from letting the talker ramble than you do from direct questioning. Direct questions would come later. For now, there was no reason to push the issue.

"What do you mean talk about the cats first?" the lawyer asked warily.

"We have a few questions regarding Mr. Barnes's mother's death."

"What questions? She was ninety-three years old, had Alzheimer's disease, wandered off and wasn't located until too late. Sad, but true."

"We have reason to believe that Mrs. Barnes did not just wander off." The detective opened a file folder on the table and spread its contents on the table. There were several typed pages — witness statements and notes — and a dozen photographs, most depicting the heavily wooded area of pine forest where Mrs. Barnes's dehydrated and lifeless body had been discovered by two hikers.

"Of course the poor dear just wandered off. It happens all the time. Ned cared for her day and night. He fell asleep. She woke up. She was confused, as usual. Hell, half the time she didn't even remember who Ned was. Her own son!

"She got out the back door and wandered into the woods. Got lost. Died from exposure to the elements. That's all. A horrible accident but nothing to do about it. Tell them, Ned."

Ned sat silently; staring at the wall behind the detective's left shoulder.

"Tell them, Ned," the lawyer urged.

The detective leaned forward. He pushed one of the photographs across the table and turned it so Ned could see the crumpled shape of his mother at the base of a pine tree near the edge of a narrow hiking path.

"For the record, I'm showing Mr. Barnes a photograph. Number seven dash three eight."

The photo had been recovered from the cell phone camera of one of the hikers who had discovered the frail woman's body, clothed only in a thin nightgown. Her face and arms had been scorched from exposure to the summer sun. Her bare feet bore signs of cuts and scrapes.

"That's not quite what happened, is it Ned?" the detective prodded.

Ned sat silently for another moment then shook his head from side to side as he stared down at the photograph.

"Please speak your answer for the record," the detective prompted quietly.

"No," he whispered. "No."

The detective waited for Ned to continue.

"She was old. Too old.

"I had to do everything for her. Feed her. Dress her. Clean up her mess when she forgot to go to the bathroom to do her business." Without looking up, he continued. "She would stand in the kitchen and just pee on the floor and then walk away. Like one of her damn cats. She would have kept hundreds of them if I would have let her. Strays. They just kept showing up. And she'd feed them. Until she got too batty. Then I had to do that too. And clean up after them. They'd piss everywhere. Inside the house. Outside the house. On the lawn furniture, the doors to the house. Everywhere. She'd open the doors and let them in. And in they'd come."

Ned paused. Lost in his own thoughts.

"And do you know what she had done? Before she got so batty. She had her lawyer — "

The detective looked towards Ed Barnes.

"No, not this lawyer. Her own lawyer. Some old coot. He'd been her lawyer for centuries.

"She got him to write up a will so as to give all her money to the cats. The damn cats! With me as trustee. I got a stipend for myself and those damn cats got the rest. Every penny."

Ned slumped forward in his chair.

"Every penny."

The detective withdrew the photograph and replaced it with another.

"For the record, I'm showing Mr. Barnes, Ned Barnes, photograph number seven dash three four."

The photograph was a blurred image, but two figures were clearly visible and identifiable.

"This image was retrieved from one of your neighbor's security cameras. Do you recognize the two people in the photograph?"

Ned barely glanced at the photograph. He knew what he would see there. There was an ache in the pit of his stomach. He had been caught. Caught red-handed. Leading his frail mother, barefoot and scantily clad in her nightgown, towards the pine forest that bordered their backyard. He had completely forgotten his neighbor had motion censored security cameras at strategic corners of his property. The cameras were intended to capture shots of wildlife — deer, bear, raccoons, opossums — that entered the yard. Instead, it caught Ned.

"I thought if I could just get rid of her and those damn cats, I could live 'happily ever after' as they say. All that money would be mine.

"It should have been mine," he whispered.

* * *

"Interview terminated at seventeen hundred hours." The detective punched the "off" button on the recording machine.

"Mr. Barnes, if you'll go with this officer here he'll take you to be processed."

Ned pushed the chair away from the table and stood up meekly. He turned towards the door and paused while the uniformed officer opened the door.

"To your right, sir," the officer instructed and Ned complied.

The lawyer scraped the legs of his chair across the floor as he pushed away from the table. He stuck out his beefy hand again for the detective to shake.

"It's sad, really," the lawyer spoke quietly. "There will probably be more of an uproar over the slaughter of those cats than the death of his mother. She was in her nineties and lost in the fog of Alzheimer's. Those cats were God's creatures and they felt the pain he inflicted. I'm not sure my client can even get a fair trial in this here county."

The detective gathered the sheets of paper spread on the table and returned them to the file folder. He watched the lawyer walk towards the door and shook his head slightly.

"Perhaps a plea of insanity," the lawyer muttered to himself as he grasped the door knob and pulled the door open. "You've got to be crazy to kill that many cats, just to get to some inheritance money..."

Sherry Lawrence has been writing fiction and non-fiction since the late 70s, but not full-time. She relies on her husband's "real " job to pay the bills, not her writing. Two of her early stories — DEAD AGAIN and THE WALK-AWAY VICTIM — appeared in the print version of omdb! many years ago.

Copyright 2011 Sherry Lawrence. 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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