A Hard Rain; chapter seven, part two

“Shit.”  Leslie glances at her watch and sees that it’s 7:04:32.  Siobhan would be awake if not at work yet.  Leslie calls her.

“Where the hell are you, Leslie?  I tried to call you all day yesterday.”  Siobhan is angry and not reticent about showing it.

“Sorry.  I had my cell off.”  Leslie turns off her cell when she can’t deal with it—which is most of the time.  And, it’s now telling her that she’s missed many, many messages—which is annoying the hell out of her.  “Listen.  I’m in Chicago.  I—“

“What the hell are you doing in Chicago?”

“I came to meet Rose—John’s best friend.”

“Who the fuck is Rose?  What’s going on, Leslie?”

With a start, Leslie realizes that she hasn’t told Siobhan anything since discovering that John was not John.  Taking a deep breath, Leslie makes as concise a summary as she can.  Still, it takes a good twenty minutes with Siobhan interrupting frequently to ask questions.  When Leslie is finished, Siobhan doesn’t hesitate to express her opinion.

“You get your ass home now.  This is not a game, Leslie.  Whoever killed John and took Rose isn’t going to stop at killing one more person.  I would greatly prefer that person were not you.”  Siobhan is struggling to keep her temper, but it’s touch and go.

“Do you think this person is going to stop?  He knows I am on his trail.  Whether or not I stop, I don’t think he’ll feel safe until he gets me out of the way.”

“That’s why you should quit now.  Make it clear you’re leaving everything up to the cops.  Please, Leslie.  Don’t do anything rash.  Come home and call your shrink.”  Siobhan is pleading now as she senses that Leslie’s mind is made up.

“I have to do this, Siobhan.  For John.  I love you, and I’ll talk to you later.”  Leslie hangs up the phone and turns it off.  She knows that if she talks to Siobhan any longer, they’ll just end up in a long, shouty argument.  Then, they will say things they regret before apologizing.  Then, Leslie will do what she plans to do, anyway, so why not skip all that?  Leslie reminds herself to call Siobhan later just to update her on things, and then she returns to her laptop.

“This murder is an outrage.  Believe me, we at the state are taking it very seriously.  We will prosecute the guilty to the full extent of the law.”  Prosecutor Erickson, quoted two weeks after Amy’s murder.  Leslie has called up several of the articles on Amy’s murder again to see if there’s anything she overlooked.  This time, her focus is on Prosecutor Erickson.  He is the enigma of the bunch as he is not often in the papers.  OK, not completely surprising, but not helpful for Leslie’s purposes.  He is in his late thirties, attends church regularly, and is the father of a beautiful three year old daughter.  His wife is pregnant with their second child—a boy—and she’s on bed rest.  Her first pregnancy had been difficult, and they are not taking any chances with this second one.  Even though she’s ten years younger than Prosecutor Erickson so age is not an issue, she has had trouble carrying a baby for the full nine terms.  Their daughter had been born six-weeks early, and she’s had three miscarriages since.

“Blah blah blah debate team.  Blah blah blah Harvard Law School.  Blah blah blah.  Wheaten College, of course.  Blah blah blah Phi Beta Kappa.”  Leslie slaps the laptop monitor in disgust.  Nothing but paeans to this man who is even a deacon at his church.  No hints of dalliances or anything untoward.  Leslie finds a video of him online in which he is talking about the murder of Amy.  “This is an example of the worst of our society snuffing out the very bright light of one of our best.  I have known Amy Robertson for many years, and she is a prime example of redemption.  She was a wild girl in her youth, and then she straightened up and became a valuable member of society.  She will be missed.”  Prosecutor Erickson cannot quite hide the tremor in his voice, and it causes Leslie to rewind the video a bit, turn up the volume and listen again.  Yes.  There it is.  A catch in his voice when he says that Amy will be missed.  Leslie Googles “Amy Robertson” and “Prosecutor Erickson” on a hunch, and she comes up with a lengthy list of high society events which both of them had attended.  She clicks on several articles and skims rapidly.  She looks at the pictures, and she finds two of the Amy and Prosecutor Erickson.  She zooms in on his face and it’s clear for anyone to see—State Prosecutor Michael Erickson is besotted with Amy.

“Bingo,” Leslie says softly as she bookmarks the page.  This is the first hint of something not quite right about Prosecutor Erickson, and she wants to make sure she can find it again if need be.  She zooms in on Amy’s face, and she nods when she sees amused fondness at best on it.  She pulls out the list of John’s passwords from her computer bag and quickly opens his private directory—something she had done the first time around, but it had meant nothing to her at the time.  Now, she sees that the folders are pertinent to the case.  A Badge & A Smile is Chief Matthews.  Dickhead is Senator Robertson.  Junior Dickhead is Senator Bronson.  Benched is Judge Anthony.  Red State Law is Prosecutor Erickson.  Despite herself, Leslie has to grin at the last folder name.  How very cute of John to make a riff on Erick, the son of Erick, the head honcho at redstate.com, a batshitcrazy rightwing website that exhorts its reader to…well do stuff!  Protest big bad liberals by buying things through the Amazon link on the page so Erick the son of Erick can get a cut!  Send rock salt to Olympia Snowe (get it?  Get it?) and make sure to do it through the Amazon link!

Leslie opens the last folder first as she’s curious about Prosecutor Erickson.  Much of it is the same as what John had sent her, but there are a few additional details—such as the good prosecutor’s phone number.  Leslie is not sure how John got the number, and she doesn’t particularly care.  She writes it down so she can call it as soon as she’s done perusing his folder.  She notes that he had been engaged to be married to—holy shit.  Amy Robertson’s sister, Tina, the third of the five children.  Tina, who is now married to someone else.  It says that they had met five years ago, dated for six months, and were engaged for three months until Tina suddenly broke it off.  No one knows why.  John had written, “Amy?” after this item, but Leslie isn’t quite sure what he means by it.  Did he think that Amy’s the reason for the broken engagement?  If so, was it purely speculation on John’s part, or did he have evidence?  If he had evidence, it’s not in the folder.

There is an article about Prosecutor Erickson taking a month off from his job three years ago.  Rumor had it that he had had a breakdown of sorts after his wife’s second miscarriage.  Less charitable rumor had it that he had a breakdown because he caused his wife’s second miscarriage, but there is not a shred of evidence supporting that rumor.  Leslie reads the rest of Prosecutor Erickson’s file and notes that he’s apparently led an exemplary life.  The only minor demerit to his name is that he was reprimanded by a judge once for overstepping his boundaries in a case.  Leslie has no idea what that means, and after a little more digging, she decides it’s not relevant.  She notices, almost as an afterthought, that Mrs. Erickson is a devout Catholic.  If this is the case, then divorce is not an option—even if Prosecutor Erickson had wanted to divorce her.  Leslie stops.  Why does she even think Prosecutor Erickson had wanted to divorce his wife?  Yes, he was in love with Amy, but he had to know that divorcing his wife and dating Amy or even marrying her would have been an ugly mess.  For a man of his position, it just doesn’t make sense for him to throw everything away for love.  And, Leslie is cynical enough to believe that a man in his position would rather throw away love than give up his prestige and his place in society.  Leslie browses on the internet a bit more to see if she can unearth anything else about Prosecutor Erickson.  Nothing.  She decides to call him—from the hotel phone.  She quickly sketches out a plan of attack while she’s waiting for him to answer.

“Erickson.  Who is this and what do you want?”  Leslie is taken aback at the abrupt greeting, but she figures it’s because it’s a private number.  He doesn’t recognize her number, so he’s understandably cautious.

“Prosecutor Erickson, this is Gretchen Wilson, a reporter with the Madison Times.  Might I have a few minutes of your time?”  Leslie adopts her most professional tones, which seem to fool the prosecutor.

“Two minutes, Ms. Wilson.  You have two minutes.  Then I have to go.”

“I appreciate it.”  Leslie purposely adopts a Midwest accent, so unlike her own voice which is carefully devoid of any accent at all.  “As I said, I work for the Madison Times.  Crime beat.  I have uncovered a murder that is similar to Amy Robertson’s.  You remember her case, don’t you?  She’s the daughter of one of your senators.”

“Of course I recognize the case,” Prosecutor Erickson’s voice warms up considerably.  “Not only am I in charge of prosecuting the case, I knew the victim personally.  She was a wonderful woman.”  Not, perhaps, the smartest thing for him to say given the circumstances, but Leslie knows that being in love can do stupid things to your brain—like telling the whole world how you feel, even when it’s better if you keep it to yourself.

“Well, in my case, a young woman by the name of Crystal Gale has been found murdered.  She was bound in a similar position as your Amy Robertson.  She was nude, and she had recently had intercourse.  The speculation is that the intercourse was consensual, but the cops are not certain.”  Leslie bites her lip so she will stop elaborating.  The wisest thing to do when lying is to talk as little as possible.  The more one said, the more one had a chance for fucking up.

“That does sound similar, Ms. Wilson.  Unfortunately—“

“She’s the niece of a local pol.  No one as prominent as your Senator Robertson, but still.  You can see why I thought there might be a connection.”

“Yes, well, I can see why you might think that.”

“Just tell me if you have any solid leads.  I hate to think of a scumbag like this getting away with it yet again.  Ms. Gale had a trouble childhood, you see.  She was a high school dropout and pregnant at age seventeen.  Yet, she managed to get her GED, go to community college, and she was working as a administrative assistant for a medical clinic when she died.  She really turned her life around.”

“Just like Amy!  Ms. Robertson.  The young woman in my case.  When she was a child, her family despaired of her ever amounting to anything.  Before I first met her, she was still smoking pot all the time and doing nothing with her life.  I was really proud to see her pull herself out of the gutter, nearly single-handedly.  Then, she found a guy who seemed good for her, but she hadn’t dealt with all her issues, unfortunately.  Still, she didn’t deserve to die that way.  Nobody did.”  Prosecutor Erickson stops abruptly, perhaps realizing that it’s not wise to spill all this to someone he doesn’t know—especially a purported reporter.  Leslie debates how to handle it before responding.

“I have always found it most tragic when someone who’s done so much personal work has her life taken from her before she can complete the transformation.  As I was telling you, my Crystal was similar.  At the time of her murder, she was engaged to a nice young man who was a manager of a Target.  She was murdered two months before her wedding.  It crushed her fiancé, I can tell you that much, Prosecutor Erickson.  It’s a crying shame.”  Leslie holds her breath to see what Prosecutor Erickson does with that information.  She has found that most people need to talk about the love of their lives, even when it behooves them to keep quiet about it—scratch that.  Especially when it behooves them to keep quiet about it.

“Yes!  That’s exactly what I’m saying.  I knew Amy Robertson was special from the moment I met her.  I was dating her sister, you see….”

“Mikey, you are soo good to me.”  Tina giggled as she squeezed Michael’s arm.  She held up her hand so she could see the diamond sparkle once again.  Michael had only proposed two weeks ago, so she was still giddy every time she saw it.  “I’m glad you’re coming to my family’s for dinner.  They really like you.  Even my oldest sister will be there, and she never comes home any more!”

“I can’t wait to meet her, Tina, my love.”  Michael smiled fondly at Tina as she chattered away, oblivious to his study.  She was an attractive-enough blond with a figure that tended towards plump.  She had the unfortunate tendency to wear clothes that were a bit too low on top and a bit too high on the bottom, but that could be changed.  He wasn’t as sure about her…well, commonness.  Yes, she came from a good family, but there was no denying that if she hadn’t, she wouldn’t be anything special.  However, Michael couldn’t deny those family lines, so he tried to overlook her shortcomings.  Besides, she was a tiger in bed.  That made up for a lot.

“Hi, Mommy!  Daddy!  Mikey’s with me.”  Tina hugged her mom and dad before nodding at her fiancé.

“Senator Robertson.  Mrs. Robertson.  Good to see you again.”  Michael shook Senator Robertson’s hand firmly and Mrs. Robertson’s less firmly.  “For you.”  He handed a bouquet of pink orchids to Mrs. Robertson—her favorite flower.

“Pink orchids!  How thoughtful, Michael.”  Mrs. Robertson’s face creased into a genuine smile before she hurried away to put the orchids in water.

“You’re the last ones here,” Senator Robertson said congenially.  “As always, pumpkin.”  The last was directed at his daughter who crinkled her nose at him.  The senator clearly thought it was endearing whereas Michael found it off-putting.

“I’m sorry, Daddy.  I just couldn’t decide on what to wear!”  Tina linked her arm through her father’s, and they walked to the dining room, forcing Michael to trail behind them.  Tina quickly unlinked her arm and rushed back to Michael.  “Mikey!  This is my sister, Amy.  Amy, this is my fiancé, Mikey Erickson.”

“Michael,” Michael said automatically, extending his hand.  To his great surprise, a lovely, lithe blond with exquisite features and slender curves rose from the table and took his hand in hers.

“My name is Amy,” Amy said in her musical voice.  “I’m the black sheep of the family.”  She threw her head back and laughed, shocking everyone with the vibrancy of her tone.  “It’s very nice to meet you, Michael.”  Amy allowed her hand to linger in Michael’s, and in an instant, he was hooked.

“I tried to fight it, Ms. Wilson.  I really did.  I knew it was not proper for me to chase after Amy while still engaged to Tina, but I couldn’t help myself.  The attraction between us was too strong.”  Prosecutor Erickson sounds as if he’s trying to convince himself rather than Leslie, but she actually agrees with him.  Oh, he is still scum for cheating on his fiancée with his fiancée’s sister, but an intense physical connection isn’t easy to shake.

“I understand.  You sound like a good man.  You wanted to do the right thing.  But, for once, your heart was speaking too strongly for you to ignore it.”  There is a pause.  Leslie wonders if she’s gone too far.  Then, she hears a snuffling sound, and she realizes that Prosecutor Erickson is trying to stop himself from crying.  Her own heart hurts for him for a second.  He obviously really loved Amy.  Leslie hardens her heart, however, because many people have been killed by someone who loved them.

“I think about her every day,” Prosecutor Erickson says softly.  “I try not to because I’m married with a wonderful daughter and a son on the way, but it’s so hard not to remember…I saw her a week before she died, and it was the last time…we were together.  I hadn’t seen her since I broke up with Tina, but I could never resist Amy.  Never.”  The last is said to himself, and Leslie wonders if he even realizes he has confessed out loud to a stranger.  She has a hunch that at this point, he wouldn’t even care, so deep in his misery is he.

“How did it start between you two?”  Leslie knows she is taking a risk by asking such a personal question, but Prosecutor Erickson doesn’t hesitate to answer.

“I went over to fix her heater, at Tina’s insistence.  She had made gingerbread and eggnog.  I fell in love with her that afternoon.  I knew we were soul mates.  I knew I should have broken up with Tina, but I was weak.  Tina was in good standing with her family, you see, and Amy was not.”  Prosecutor Erickson sighs heavily before continuing his story.

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