A Hard Rain; chapter three, part one

“So, John likes broken women,” Leslie says, exhaling loudly at the end of Rose’s recitation.  “That’s why he chose me.”

“Not true.  Freddy talked about you all the time.  He said you’d been damaged, but you were far from broken.  He admired your courage in facing your demons.”

“Courage.”  Leslie snorts as she says the word.  “He’s the one who made me strong enough to face them.  He’s the one who made them back down.  He’s the one—“  Leslie chokes as she begins to cry again.  She steadies her voice before adding, “He brought out the best in me.  He did it for me.”  With that, she’s bawling as if she’ll never stop.  She is taken by surprise, but she doesn’t try to stop herself.  She is dimly aware that Rose is talking again, so she tries to focus.

“Nonsense.  He couldn’t have brought it out if it wasn’t there in the first place.  He was humbled by how you trusted him, despite all you’d been through.  He told me to never let him take your trust or your love for granted.”  Rose’s voice is calm, and it helps quiet Leslie’s tears.  “I have to go now.  Let’s talk again tomorrow.”

“John wanted you tell me everything if he died,” Leslie blurts out.  “Are you willing to do that?”

“Yes, I am.  Maybe you could come to Chicago and visit me,” Rose suggests.  “It’ll be easier if we can talk face to face.  And, to be honest, I’m curious about the woman who has so captured Freddy’s heart.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”  Leslie and Rose decide on a time to talk the following day before they hang up the phone.  Leslie returns to John’s laptop to see if she’s missed anything.  One’s she’s done with that, she goes back to her computer room so she can research Amy’s murder.  Josephine trots in step behind her.  As Leslie sits down, Josephine settles into her bed so she can watch the computer monitor.

Leslie types in Amy Robertson and murder into Google and is overwhelmed by the number of hits that she receives.  She tries to think of a way to winnow the choices, but she doesn’t know anything but the basics of the crime.  Leslie opens the first ten links in new tabs and starts slogging through them.  Much of what she reads are things that Rose has already told her.  The murder happened nearly a year ago, so there is nothing new on the case.  Many of the articles emphasize the fact that Amy was the daughter of a prominent local pol.  Several of his powerful friends spoke out forcefully against her murder.

“It’s a sad day when a young woman cannot relax in her own home without fear of being murdered in her bed.”  This pompous statement was delivered with great solemnity by Senator Bronson, Senator Robertson’s closest ally in the State Senate.  Senator Bronson was essentially a clone of Senator Robertson—down to the invisible wife and five children.  He was good-looking in an austere way with piercing hazel eyes and surprisingly voluptuous lips.  When he smiled, there was a warmth that escaped Senator Robertson entirely.  He was Senator Robertson’s junior by several years, placing him in his late forties.  Yet, he, too carried himself with gravitas that bordered on ridiculous.  He and Senator Robertson had been close friends for decades when Senator Robertson took a very young and very wet-behind-the-ears Senator Bronson under his political wing.  Senator Bronson is very active in his church, taking a special interest in the youth group.  He also babysat Amy when she was a little girl.

“The murder of Ms. Robertson is a clarion call,” declared Judge Anthony.  He was a golfing buddy of Senator Robertson’s and another hardline conservative.  He was in his late fifties, married for the second time, and he had three children.  He was a bit flashier than his senatorial counterparts—he liked to wear some bling such as a Rolex watch—and he favored loud ties that brightened up his black robe.  “If such a heinous crime can happen to the daughter of a senator—well, no one is safe.”  Leslie rolls her eyes at the stupidity of the judge’s statement.  Of course no one is safe—life is not safe, damn it.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling himself, naïve, or incredibly sheltered.

“We will not rest until we have the murderer behind bars.”  Ah, Chief-of-Police Matthews himself.  He was an African American man with a dark complexion, round cheeks, and a piercing stare.  He was in his early fifties, and the Googley told Leslie that he was another golfing buddy of Senator Robertson.  He was married to a mousy white woman, and he had three stunning biracial children.  Like the others, he went to church every Sunday and voted strictly Republican.

“All we need is the prosecut—oh, here we go.”  Leslie read about State Prosecutor Erickson, the prosecutor of the case.

“Ms. Robertson was cut down in the prime of her life.  She was a young, vibrant woman who had much to offer the world.  It’s a tragedy of epic proportion that she was killed.”  State Prosecutor Erickson was in his late thirties and yet another friend of Senator Robertson’s.  He was married with one child, and his wife was pregnant with their second.  Leslie read a bit more about him because his praise of Amy doesn’t sound canned as the others had.  He was a tall, thin man with a quirky smile.  He wore wire-rim round glasses, and he had rumpled brown hair.  He wasn’t bad-looking, but there wasn’t anything special about him, either.

“Interesting,” Leslie murmurs as she skims more articles.  She knows that the death of a senator’s daughter is big news, but she’s still surprised at how many of Senator Robertson’s powerful and influential friends had spoken with the media about the tragedy.  Had they done that out of loyalty to Senator Robertson, or were their motives more sinister?  Leslie types herself a note so she won’t forget to do further research after she finishes reading about the murder.

After fifteen minutes and twenty-three seconds of reading various articles on Amy’s murder, it becomes clear to Leslie that John is the main suspect.  In fact, he’s the only suspect.  The evidence is overwhelming.  His fingerprints are found all over Amy’s house.  Now, that’s not odd as he had been her boyfriend and had lived with her before they broke up.  It would have been more suspicious if his prints were not found at her house.  What was more damning, however, was that his fingerprints were found on the rope that had been used to tie Amy to her bed.  Freddy was not into the S&M scene, and he definitely did not like rope bondage, so that had not been part of their sex life.  In addition, they found a cufflink of Freddy’s by the bed—one he had bought after he had moved out of the house.  Leslie frowns as the evidence piles up.  A neighbor saw someone who looked like Freddy pounding on the front door around the time of Amy’s murder.  Another neighbor had spotted Freddy’s car circling the neighborhood earlier in the day.  She had called the cops, but by the time they arrived, the car was long gone.

Leslie clicks on link after link, her frown deepening as she reads each one.  All the evidence points to John.  There is no outlier, which is deeply suspicious to Leslie.  She knows that there are always random pieces in a murder case that don’t fit the overall puzzle.  This case has none of those outliers.  Every piece of evidence found pointed directly at John—Freddy.  Until this point, Leslie hadn’t been quite sure what had happened to Amy.  Now, she knows one thing—Freddy did not kill her.  What’s more, the crime was staged to make it seem like Freddy was the killer.  No wonder he changed his identity and got the hell out of Dodge.  He had a big target on his back, and he must have felt way too exposed by continuing to live in Chicago.

Leslie feels a flash of anger towards John.  She knows that if he had just moved to Minneapolis and started his life anew, no one would have bothered to hunt him down and murder him.  However, there is no way in hell John would have let such an injustice stand.  First of all, he had had his life taken away from him by whomever murdered Amy.  More to the point, he had had the woman he loved taken away from him.  He had a hunch that someone very powerful was involved, and if that was true, the case would remain unsolved forever.  Leslie knows her man.  He would not have been content to sit by and wait for justice to be served—oh no.  He would have done what he could to facilitate the process.  And, he got himself killed for his troubles.  Leslie can’t help but feel the sting of rejection because she is alone again.

Leslie takes a break and cuddles Josephine for a few minutes.  A very sleepy Josephine tolerates this for exactly three minutes and forty-five seconds before she starts wiggling.  Though she likes to sit on Leslie’s lap for hours on end, she isn’t keen on being held.  Once in a while, Josephine will submit to the indignity because she knows she will be rewarded in the end.  Other times, however, Josephine simply does not care enough for the treat to allow herself to be bribed in such a manner.  This time, she settles down again pretty quickly; she senses that Leslie needs some extra love.  Josephine tucks her tiny head into Leslie’s breasts, purring and kneading for all she’s worth.  She doesn’t even flinch when she feels salty wetness bedewing her fur.

“I miss him so much, Josephine,” Leslie whispers, though there isn’t anyone else in the house.  “I want him to come home!”  Leslie allows the tears to flow yet again, but she cuts them off after seven minutes and thirty-three seconds.  She has a job to do, and she doesn’t have the luxury of giving into her self-pity.  When she discovers what had happened to Freddy, then she will mourn.

Leslie returns to her computer after plunking Josephine back in her bed.  In quick fashion, she discovers that John’s full name is Federico Amato.  Much more distinctive than John Smith, and she can understand why he changed it.  She plugs his name into Google and comes up with a plethora of information.  Freddy Amato had been a highly-successful business motivational speaker, making serious coinage in the process.  Leslie remembers how he often insisted on paying for dinner or bought her thoughtful little gifts.  He knew that she loved Alan Rickman with a passion that bordered on obsession, so he had bought her every DVD of Alan’s that Leslie didn’t already have. John also bought her a first edition copy of Neil Gaiman’s first issue of the Sandman.  It is one of Leslie’s most prized possessions.  Still, she couldn’t help but wonder how could afford such extravagant gift as freelance writing didn’t pay that well.  When she had asked him, he said that he had made money in his former life and that he had played the stock market extremely well before the crash.  He hadn’t told her he made in the high six-figures in his previous life, but he hadn’t lied, either.

With more digging, Leslie finds out that Freddy had adopted a black cat named Onyx who got run over three months later when Amy let him out of the house during a manic phase.  Leslie winces and instinctively reaches out to pet Josephine.  Leslie cannot imagine how she would feel if Freddy’s situation, and no wonder he was always extra-tender with Josephine.  Leslie feels a flash of hatred for Amy, and it’s strong enough to unsettle Leslie.  She has never met this woman, and this poor woman has been murdered in a brutal way, and yet, Leslie can’t help but hate Amy for what she put John through.  Intellectually, Leslie knows that John chose to stay with Amy and that Amy was seeing a psychiatrist up until the day she died, but it doesn’t lessen the anger Leslie has for the dead woman.  She still feels guilty for putting John through hell with her own depression—and she hadn’t had the accompanying mania that Amy had had.  Plus, Leslie for all her flaws, Leslie had never disappeared on John, and she certainly had never cheated on him.

Leslie reads that John’s parents had died in a car crash when he was twenty-five. She finds it obscurely comforting that she already knew that.  In fact, it was something they quickly bonded over as her family had died in a car crash as well.  John’s father had been an alcoholic just as Leslie’s mother had been.  John knew the perils of tiptoeing around a perpetual drunk.  Leslie dealt with her mother by being as invisible as possible so as not to incur her mother’s wrath.  Lisa had always been the favored daughter, for whatever reason, so she was the only one tolerated by their mother during a drunken rage.  John, on the other hand, had been the clown—joking and charming his father out of a black mood.  It worked more often than not, but it often took hours for the effect to occur.

Leslie also discovers that Amy’s three sisters are all married to politicians and have dutifully procreated, each sister has at least two children.  They all live in Chicago, and they all attend the same church.  They do lunch after church every Sunday, and they are all part of the same prayer group.  Their children play together all the time, and Mrs. Robertson is a willing babysitter whenever she is asked.  Amy was the black sheep of the family, obviously, as she was not married, did not have children, and did not attend church.  In other words, she was a heathen.  Jack Jr. is not married and does not have children, but as he is only 21, he still has plenty of time to do his familial duty.  Leslie shakes her head at the monotonous nature of the lives of the Robertson sisters.  She could not imagine such a life, nor did she even want to try.

“What the?”  Leslie notices a small side bar article about Mrs. Robertson—nothing more than a couple inches, really.  It reveals that Mrs. Robertson had been arrested for running over a pedestrian while driving under the influence three months before Amy’s murder and that while she had been found guilty by the jury, she had gotten off with just probation, treatment, and restitution from the judge.  Leslie frowns as she does not see how this information is relevant to the case.  She discovers that Judge Christopher Anthony III had been the one to make the decision—the same judge who is a golfing buddy of Senator Robertson.  The same judge who spoke out passionately against Amy’s murder.  It has to be a conflict of interest that he presided over Mrs. Robertson’s case, and this is exactly the issue tackled by the sidebar.  There isn’t anything other than speculation about the connection, however, so Leslie dismisses it from her mind.

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