Judge Willie Pierce and police director James Hardaway paced a well worn path across Judge Pierce’s floor. Both men were deep in thought. How long before the others would get here? From time to time, they paused for ringing cell phones, at which time they would check the caller ID display and then continue pacing.
The door to the study slammed open to admit Eula. The Judge watched his wife teeter into the room. He glanced at the clock over his desk and noted the time. It was only seven in the evening and she already appeared to be drunk. Or high. He was no longer able to tell the difference. She’d spent more and more time out of her head since the murder. He felt a rush of pity for her and wished there was some way to comfort or soothe her. But now was not the time.
“What do you want, Eula? We’re kind of busy right now.”
She was casually dressed in jeans, a silk blouse and stiletto heels. He hoped she wouldn’t break her ankle trying to walk in those things. She offered up a bright smile that couldn’t quite mask the shadows in her eyes or the evidence of tears.
“I’m headed out for awhile. Big John is going to drive me. I shouldn’t be too late.” The three sentences seemed to carry a lot a weight, or so he assumed since that last sentence nearly had her stumbling over her feet.
James discretely looked away, trying to give at least the illusion of privacy. Willie cast him a side long glance before stepping closer to Eula.
“Are you sure you’re all right? Can I get something for you?”
“No, darling Willie. I’m going to get all I need. I’m fine, there’s no need to worry.” There was a moment of clarity in her eyes as she looked up and caressed the side of his face. “How are you doing? This has got to be very difficult for you.”
He smiled gently in her eyes. He wanted to reach out to her, but he couldn’t. Too much had happened already and it still wasn’t over. He flashed back to her near hysteria at the funeral and sighed.
“I’m fine, Eula. You go on and enjoy yourself tonight.”
Eula watched him closely for a moment and then flashed him another bright smile. “You don’t have to tell me twice, baby.” She turned and waved dismissively before walking back out the door.
Willie moved and closed the door tight behind her.
“Did they say what time they’d be here?”
“They should be here any min. . .” They both glanced up at the sound of the ringing doorbell. Willie left the study. James could hear the murmur of voices coming down the hall. Willie entered first followed closely by Pastor Calvin Reynolds.
James looked closely at Willie and they exchanged a subtle nod. James held his gaze another long moment before turning to Calvin. “You’ve got a lot of nerve coming here.”
“Where else would I be? My oldest friend has lost his only son. I’m here to offer my emotional support.”
“I can’t believe you have the gall to show your face here.” James watched him in disgust.
“Admittedly, I might’ve waited a bit longer, but funny thing, no one has been answering my calls lately. Not you, not James or anyone else in Genesis. Surely you aren’t trying to avoid me?”
“Now why on earth would any one of us do that?”
“You know, that’s exactly what I was thinking. So, I decided that there was obviously something wrong with the phones. This meant that a face to face visit was in order. So, here I am.” Calvin walked boldly over to Willie and patted him gently on the back. “How are you Willie?”
Willie shrugged the hand off and turned and faced him fully. “I’m doing as well as I can, given that one of my business associates brutally murdered my son.”
Calvin was taken aback by the bold accusation but quickly recovered. “Willie, you can’t seriously believe I had anything to do with Andre’s death?” The shocked expression on his face was full of the pompous sincerity her usually reserved for the pulpit.
“Calvin, don’t play me. I know you and my son’s murder was exactly your style. We’re the only ones here, cut the act. The least you could do is tell me the truth.”
Calvin looked at him with skepticism. “My friend, I’m afraid that grief may have affected you more than you know. I would never . . .”
James interrupted. “We know about the blackmail. We know that Andre had investigated you and was blackmailing you for $100K each month. You never have been able to tolerate anyone getting the best of you.”
Calvin stuttered several times before he could speak. “You KNEW about the blackmail and you did nothing?!”
Calvin advanced slowly towards Willie. When he stood directly in front of him, he spoke softly. “Since when do we leave each other exposed?”
Willie did not back down an inch. He pulled himself to his full six feet height and glared down at his old friend with equal intensity. “When the interest of one supersedes the interest of the group, and the actions of one puts the rest of us at risk. We have warned you about your extra activities. But this time, you’ve gone too far.”
“Willie, I will go as far as I deem fit. I’m in way too deep and I know too much for you to cast me aside. Besides, like I told Andre, his information and his threats were chicken feed. Certainly not something to kill over. I didn’t kill your son.” He said that last looking directly into the father’s eyes.
James spoke before Willie could respond. “Well, of course, no one would expect you to get your own hands dirty.”
“James? What has gotten into you? You are usually the one with the cool head? I did nothing to hurt Andre. Have you been in contact with the cops? Have they been able to find any leads to the real killer?”
“Well, now that you mention it, Detective Jones is on his way here now.”
Calvin seemed surprised but hid it quickly. “Well, that’s fine, fine. Perhaps you will see there was no way I could have been involved with the murder.”
Shortly after they were seated around the room, the doorbell sounded again. Willie stood up to answer the door. He welcomed Detective Caleb Jones into his home and shook hands cordially with two other men, a tall thin Latino and a slick dressed black male. They carried themselves like cops. He wondered about the whereabouts of detective Harvey Miller.
“Gentlemen, thank you for coming. We are in my study. If you would follow me.” Willie turned and led the way down the hall. He introduced Detective Jones to the other men, leaving Caleb to introduce the newcomers.
“It’s good to see y’all again.” Caleb started. “May I introduce officers Martin Green and Jesus Janeiro.” Both men nodded and then took up silent positions, one near the door and the other, at the window. Willie smiled inside as he noticed Calvin’s visible swallow.
Caleb continued. “I apologize for calling on you so late. Director Hardaway has asked me to give you regular update on our investigation.” He established eye contact with each man present.
“One of the things that concerned me is the nature in which the victim was murdered.”
They listened to the detailed description the condition in which the body was found, which included the coroner’s cause of death and the toxicity report which showed trace evidence of ether in the blood systems of both the victim and Courtney Bowers. Willie felt a wave of sadness as Caleb described severe torture which included an array of cuts, abrasions, and burns, as well as dismemberment of the victim’s penis and two missing fingers. Unlike the penis, the fingers had not been found.
“We finally got the night manager to admit that he’d been paid off. He’d been told to give them a room away from occupied rooms. He couldn’t tell us who hired him or even who picked up the key. His instructions were to leave the key under the mat outside the room.”
“Did he see anyone enter the room?” Hardaway asked.
Caleb shook his head. “He kept watch but when they arrived, he reported that a dark colored van backed into the spot directly in front of the room. The driver’s side faced away from the motel lobby, so he couldn’t even see or get a description of the driver.”
“What about when they checked out?” The director nudged again.
“He was paid up front. The money left for him at the counter. He estimated that he first saw the van parked in front of the room about 11:30. He couldn’t be sure exactly when they left, but he noticed the van had disappeared shortly before 3 am. He admitted to being curious and that’s when he walked down to the room and knocked on the door.”
“So, you’ve got nothing.” Pastor Reynolds inserted.
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly say that, sir. Ms. Bowers told us that they were taken from the Madison Hotel. We pulled the security tapes. At approximately 10:45 pm, Ms. Bowers was seen exiting the hotel. She gave the valet her ticket and waited near the curb with the victim. She seemed to be holding him up.” Caleb referred back to his notes. “At 10:50pm, two men were seen approaching the victim. A dark van pulled up, the two of them were thrown in the back and the van pulled off, driving East on Madison avenue. We found the van abandoned in Southaven. We were able to pull blood samples from the carpet in the back of the van. It matched the victim’s.”
“So, we know that they were snatched from the hotel and driven directly to the Shady Rest. Do you know who took them?”
“We were able to pull clear images of the faces and builds. We’re running it through hour facial recognition software as we speak. If they have been in the system, we should have their identity very soon.”
Judge Willie asked quietly. “So, Caleb, you weren’t able to recognize or identify any of the men from their photos?”
“No sir, I was not. However, we have a witness who was able to make identification. We picked them up this afternoon. Detective Harvey Miller is interrogating them now.”
“A witness? What kind of witness?” Caleb looked up to see the pastor staring at him in belligerence.
“Why, Courtney Bowers, of course.”
“Courtney? I thought you said she was drugged? What could she possibly tell you about the men who took them?”
At that moment, the door to the study opened and Courtney slipped inside. She smiled at Jesus and Martin, who both nodded their approval and support. She moved across the room until she stood next to Judge Pierce and then she turned towards Pastor Calvin Reynolds. She met and held his gaze as she spoke clearly and succinctly.
“Daughter? What on earth are you doing here? You should be home resting. I must insist, gentlemen. She’s been through a terrible ordeal.”
“I’m sorry, Pastor.” Caleb responded. “Ms. Bowers is here in an official capacity. She is a material witness.”
“A witness to what?” Reynolds insisted, never removing his eyes from Courtney.
“I’m afraid, Pastor, that I have not been completely honest with you.” She looked at Caleb before continuing. At his encouraging nod, she continued her story.
“When Andre started his investigation into you and the House of Peace, who do you suppose did he ask to perform most of the leg work? But of course, you know that, since you had asked me to share with you whatever information he found.”
“I did no such thing. Detective, get her out of here with her lies and innuendos.”
“Not quite, Pastor.” Caleb turned to Jesus, who, in turn, held up a CD case. “It turns out that Ms. Bowers recorded each and every conversation you had with her. I’ve listened to the recordings. We’ve also had them transcripted, if you’re interested. It was pretty clear what you asked her to do.”
“Daughter, after everything we’ve done for you, this is how you repay us?”
“Pastor, I have more than repaid my debt to you. So did Abigail.”
“Abigail?” He sputtered indignantly. “What does she have to do with this?”
“Abigail is where it all begins for me. She’s dead.”
“Oh, you poor child. I know how close the two of you were. What happened?” As an aside, Reynolds turned and faced the group. “Abigail is a young woman who ran away from us several months ago. We recruit many young people from the streets, but, and this is a grim reminder that we can’t save all of them . . .”
Before he could finish, Courtney lunged towards him. She was stopped by Martin’s well-timed arm around her waist, her manicured talons a mere arms length from the Pastor’s face.
“You killed her, you rotten son of a bitch.” Courtney spat. “You killed her and threw her aside like so much garbage.”
“You see? I told you, what with everything that has happened, she’s far too fragile to be here. Send her home and let her get some rest.”
“Why? So you can arrange to have someone make me disappear too? You fuckin’ pig!”
Martin pulled her in close and whispered urgently in her ear.
Caleb interrupted again. “We’re getting off track here. Bottom line, we were able to pick up the murderers based on information we received from Ms. Bowers.”
“Well, of course, she knows their identities. She was there that night, wasn’t she? She’s already revealed herself as a liar and a cheat. She was probably in on it. In fact, she probably set the whole thing up. What was it, Courtney? Did you find out about the other women? Or did he reject you? Not wanting to have anything to do with a filthy whore?”
“Now, Pastor.” Came Caleb’s gently chiding tone. “That comment was no where near worthy of a man of God. We’re not here to toss accusations. This is a time to deal in facts only.”
Caleb walked over to an empty settee and lowered himself down onto it. “Ms. Bowers came to us several weeks ago. One of her old associates told her about a rumored hit. Word on the street was that someone was willing to pay handsomely for the death of Andre Pierce. We did a little checking around ourselves and found that there was some credibility to the rumor. There was no way of knowing exactly who would take up that offer, or when, for that matter. So we started watching.”
Caleb paused a moment to look at the assembled group. “Ms. Bowers cooperated and kept us informed of Judge Pierce’s itinerary. We tried to put as much protection around him as possible but. . .”
There was another chime of the doorbell. “Judge, I believe that might be for me. Would you mind?” At the shake of Judge Willie’s head, he left the room to answer the front door.
He returned moments later, followed closely by Rasheed Harris.
“Now what the fuck is he doing here?” Each of them turned towards Pastor Reynolds in shocked disbelief.
“Tell me how you really feel, Pastor.” Rasheed’s deep reply was full of irony.
“This room is getting just a bit too crowded with the wrong element. I think I’ll leave y’all to it.” Pastor Reynolds stood up in preparation to leave the room.
“Just a moment, Pastor. You might want to stick around a bit longer. I believe that Rasheed has some important information to share.”
“What could a convicted felon possibly have to add to this investigation, other than to make a confession of further guilt?” Reynolds did not resume his seat but he also made no further attempt to leave the room.
“Actually, no. I’m not the one to be confessing today.” Rasheed came fully into the room and handed a folder to Caleb. Pastor Reynolds watched the exchange closely and kept his eyes locked on Caleb as the papers were withdrawn.
“So, what’s that?”
Caleb didn’t answer right away. He seemed to take his time to read whatever was written on the sheaf of papers. Once he finished, he exchanged a glance with both Jesus and Martin, who straightened to full attention.
“It would seem, Pastor Reynolds, that the three men we have in custody have made a full confession.”
Caleb paused to allow his words to sink in.
Judge Willie was the first to respond. “So, they admitted to the murder. Did they say why?”
“There was no personal connection between the victim and the perps. It was strictly a murder for hire. They reported they were paid $250,000. They also identified the one who hired them.”
“Why would you believe the word of common gutter trash? There’s no evidence in someone’s words, especially words from some street thug.”
“Pastor, you are one intuitive man. I never identified the perps as street thugs or gutter trash. How did you know that?”
Pastor Reynolds, seemed to finally grasp the magnitude of his slip, then tried to placate and smile. But Caleb could see the sheen of sweat across his brow and the nervous bounce of his leg.
“Well, who else would do such a terrible thing but street thugs?”
“In any case, we have more than their say-so. These were not the brightest of hit men, that’s for sure. In addition to allowing their faces to be recorded at The Madison, one of them couldn’t keep his mouth shut to his street cronies. He was throwing money left and right and bragging about this easy deal he’d just pulled off. The Crime Stoppers hot line was burning off the hook.”
Caleb paused, once again glancing at Pastor Reynolds, who had started inching towards the front door.
“Anyway, once we confronted them with the evidence, it didn’t take them long to point fingers at the source of their ill-gotten gain. Funny thing, Pastor, their fingers pointed in your direction.”
Pastor Reynolds looked first at Caleb and then bounced across each other person in the room. Caleb looked back down at the papers in his hand. “I also have documentation that includes affadavits from several witnesses that states that the information which led to the Mr. Harris’ conviction was all falsified. These witnesses claim that their testimony was purchased.”
Caleb paused again. “By you, Pastor.”
He couldn’t seem to speak or even form any thoughts. He turned pleading eyes towards Judge Willie and then Police Director Hardaway.
“Y’all need to speak up and tell them that I couldn’t possibly be involved with this. Willie, you are my oldest friend. Why would I do anything to hurt your only child?”
“That is indeed my question to you, Calvin. Why would you do that?”
He next turned threatening eyes to Hardaway. “We have known each other a long time. You know as well as I do that I know where the skeletons are buried.”
“Calvin, I have no idea what you’re talking about. You have just been identified as having arranged for the murder of a federal agent. There is also evidence of your possible involvement in the disappearance of a female member of your flock. Mr. Harris here has provided additional documentation that suggests that you manufactured evidence against him, which led to his wrongful conviction and confinement in a state prison. It would seem to me that you have your own skeletons to worry about.”
Calvin had stiffened at the beginning of his response. “What do you mean ‘the murder of a federal agent’?”
“Oh, it looks like we’ve forgotten one last detail.” Willie stood up and walked towards the back of the study. He opened the door and stepped back to allow several people to enter. Two men, dressed in suits and crew cuts emerged first.
“It turns out the FBI has also been interested in you. They had questions about racketeering and prostitution. We have given them all the assistance we could. They were particularly concerned about alleged threats against a criminal court judge and so they also extended their protection to Andre.”
Caleb picked up the story again. “It turns out that the hit men were even more stupid that we initially thought. You gave them his itinerary and general description but none of them had actually met or seen Judge Andre Pierce in person. The person with Courtney that night was not Andre Pierce, but an FBI agent.”
At that moment, they looked up to see Andre Pierce emerge from the back room, smiling in vicious triumph straight into the ashen gray face of Pastor Calvin Reynolds.