The talk continued for another hour or so. After the cops ran out, the crowd had plenty of good questions for me. I did my best to answer them. Some of them, like questions about Jeffery's mental status or motivations, I could only give partial answers to, if any at all. Some others were too complicated to be answered right then and there, but most I answered with at least perceived grace and tact.
In the end, most of the families seemed convinced of my theory. At least they weren't angry with me for wasting their time or blowing smoke. Even those that weren't sure about what I had to say were thinking about it and, honestly, I understood. If I hadn't seen it myself, I doubt I would have believed it.
Though I offered to stay as long as they wanted and chat with them individually, when there were no more questions and everyone was dismissed, none stuck around. Instead, they just quietly gathered their coats and purses and headed for the exits.
When David went to do the same, I called out to him and waved for him to come over. With some trepidation, he did, and Mike slid over to join in the conversation.
“Hate to say it David, but we're not done with you yet.”
“Listen,” he said exasperated, “You can cut down as many trees as you want, I feel terrible about this and I want to make it right.”
“This isn't about the trees,” I said keeping my voice low, “This is about the gun in your house.”
“What about it?” he said puzzled.
“You said you haven't touched that gun since the date of your father's death. Is that right?”
“Yeah,” he said looking back and forth between Mike and myself, “I don't have license or registration for it, You're not going to bust me for having an illegal gun are you?”
“No, we're not going to bust you because you own a gun, but because your father never did.”
“Huh?” Was all David could muster.
I went to speak but Mike butted in, apparently he wanted to be the one to move in for the kill, “Your father hunted deer. You don't hunt deer with a shotgun, you use a rifle or a…”
“Haven't you heard of buck shot?” David said angrily. “Plenty of people hunt deer with shotguns you idiot.”
Mike reeled back. The tone of David's voice made him sound like a caged rat, but he had a point. Mike had jumped the gun and his ignorance was even more striking than David's arrogance. I tapped Mike softly on the shoulder and he correctly read it as a cue to step back.
“True, you can hunt deer with a shotgun, but your father didn't. He was a bow hunter. When he attacked the construction workers, he used a bow and I've talked to several locals and none of them recall seeing him with a shotgun at any point though most remember seeing his large, professional bow. Furthermore, though you can shoot deer with a shotgun, you wouldn't use a small 28 gauge like yours. It'd be a 12 or a 10 gauge.”
David could do nothing but stammer, his look of anger changed to panic. His eyes began to dart back and forth between Mike and myself as he frantically scrambled to find something, anything to say.
Mike, smelling blood, stepped in a gain, “The truth is that was your grandfather's gun wasn't it? People around here know that he was a good squirrel and rabbit hunter and a few remember him carrying that small shotgun around or buying ammo for it.”
“But if you need any more proof,” I said leaning in, “You said your father took the upstairs to the house and you took the downstairs after he moved in. Now why, on earth, would he hang his shotgun in your part of the house?”
David said nothing and a smirk came across Mike's face. He'd clearly missed his days on the force and was enjoying catching the perp, even if it was on my ticket.
“Be honest,” Mike said, “There was no suicide, there was no accident. You killed him. You hated what he was doing to your land, you hated that he had abandoned you and you hated that you were forced to share your house and your money with a runaway dad. You hated it so much that you went out and killed him, trying in vain to make it look like a suicide.”
Panic once again gave way to anger in David. Mike was playing too rough and I could see David clinching his fists, literally digging his nails into his palms. I tried to remember if he was right or left handed so I could watch for a wild swing, “You can't prove it,” he said through his teeth. “You can't prove a damn thing.”
I waited a few more minutes to let David's heaving die down. Mike was looking mortified. The two of us were unarmed and the only police for dozens of miles were probably trying to outrun a torch mob.
“You're right,” I said, trying to be as soothing as possible, “We can't prove anything.”
The reaction from David was swift. He relaxed. His eyes unclinched and his teeth stopped grinding. After just a few seconds, his trademark look of smugness came back. One could even catch a glint of white behind his smiling lips.
“But the FBI can,” I interrupted, “They probably just got done executing a search warrant on the gun and are going to dust it for fingerprints. If your father's prints don't show up on the gun, it's going to look very suspicious. Plus they're also reopening the case, including pulling all of the old files and blocking off the scene. Your father's death is going to get the investigation it should have gotten over two years ago.”
David's jaw dropped. There was no anger, no smugness, just disbelief. He darted back and forth between Mike and myself but said nothing though he gasped a few times as if to speak.
Then, without warning, he turned around and ran, dashing out the door of the auditorium and toward the parking lot. Mike went to go follow him but I grabbed his arm to stop him, “Let him go.” I said.
Mike didn't resist me. He just dropped his shoulders and straightened his jacket. “Yeah, he won't get far.”
I walked back over to the stage and began pulling all of my belongings together, “Don't worry about it, he's not trying to run, he's just going home to protect his property. He's strange that way.”
Mike sat down on the edge of the stage and leaned back resting on his hands, “Tell me something though. How'd you get a search warrant for his place? You don't have nearly enough to get a warrant for suspicion of murder.”
I switched off the overhead projector and started work folding up the first easel, “No, I didn't. But there was more than enough for suspicion of insurance fraud. I just told the FBI I thought Jeffery had killed himself and that his son and the police had covered it up for insurance reasons. All I needed for that was the inadequate police report and the information about the policy and suddenly both the FBI and judge were very cooperative.”
Mike let out a soft chuckle, “You're a slick bastard, you know that?”
“Yeah, I can be,” I said as I laid the first easel out and started work on the second, “But the FBI is still going to have to figure it out on their own and, when and if they do, they'll get full credit for it.”
Mike hopped up onto the stage, walked over to me and patted me on the back, “But we'll know the truth right?”
“Yep,” I said laying the second easel on top of the first, “And that's all that really matters. Now quit being lazy and help me pack this stuff away.”
Mike stopped and started looking around the room, “By the way, where's April?”
“Oh,” I said, “We noticed there wasn't a car registered to Jeffery Marx. She's getting the make, model and license of the car he drove in with and reporting it to the FBI, she should be back any second. You know, just in case I'm wrong about him not fleeing.”
“Well, lately, you don't seem like you can be wrong,” Mike said as he hopped down from the stage and began to move the folding chairs around.
I paused for only a second, remembered what I had done to poor Mr. Carney and resumed putting things away. My only hope was that, for him, the relief of knowing the truth was greater than the pain of the memories I'd drudged up.
“Everybody makes mistakes Mike, everybody.”
With cleanup, April and I didn't make it home until late that night. By the time we opened the door to our apartment, we were dead on our feet and could only manage to make it as far as the couch before we collapsed like a house of cards. There we sat, as still as the walls around us, trying to overcome the tension not only of the meeting, but of the long drive to and from the auditorium.
Though Mike had offered to put us up in a hotel room for the night, we refused, wanting nothing more than to sleep in our own bed. However, the long drive home quickly took it's toll on us and, like so many before us, we found ourselves unable to move from the splendid comfort of the couch.
April, for her part, had gotten all of the essential information from Jeffery's car and had already called the FBI. Apparently though, Jeffery did show up at his house where he was powerless to stop the investigation. If nothing else, his life wasn't going to be the same again.
After what seemed like an eternity, April got up and started stirring around in the kitchen. “Do you want a cappuccino?” She called out.
“Please,” I shouted back.
I continued zoning out and staring at the walls. For the first time in years I was frustrated at our lack of cable television. Though I've never been the type to watch much TV, it was certainly tempting right then, if nothing else than to have something to do while thoroughly ensconced on the couch, helpless to move.
Soon enough though, April came back with the cappuccino and I took a few sips. The caffeine and the sugar began to make it's way through my veins and I found myself perking up, at least enough to move around. After about half the mug, I set it down on an end table and slid over to April, holding her tight in my arms.
“Tired sweetie?” she asked.
“No, I'm just so awake I'm about to fall asleep,” I said, unable to bite my tongue.
April pushed me off and slapped my arm playfully before reaching around behind her, grabbing a pillow and tossing it at me. “Listen smartass,” she said with a giggle, “You can't get away with that here.”
I chuckled and grabbed my mug, taking a long sip, “I know, just couldn't help myself.”
“It's ok. I'll forgive you, you've had a long day.”
She was right too. I leaned forward on the sofa, clutching my cup in one hand and resting my other arm across my knees. I let my mind drift off as I began to remember not just the day behind me, but the entire investigation. Everything from the first call to the final meeting came back to me in a giant flood of emotions.
“You ok?” April asked after a few moments of silence.
“Yeah,” I said solemnly, “Just memories.”
“Hey!” She said, raising her voice to get my attention, “Don't get sad on me now. You solved the case, you should be happy.”
“I am,” I said flatly, “I'm just tired,” I raised my cup in the air, “But here's to busting curses and catching murderers. May we continue to do both.”
April tapped her mug with mine and we both took long gulps, “You know though,” April said after she pulled away from her cup, “In a way, there was a curse on the land. It just wasn't magical you know?”
“Yeah, well, at least this one we can do something about.”
“But you know the next time a yahoo goes flying off of that curve at ninety miles an hour and dies no one's going to believe you any more.”
I got up from the couch and began to take off my shirt, “Probably, but at least we know the truth and I'll be happy with that. Well, as long as I'm not the yahoo in question.”
April let out a soft chuckle and scratched behind her ear,
“Come on, it's time for bed. At least it is for me.”
April rocked back hard on the couched and rolled forward to her feet.
“I couldn't agree more.”