Finding Elvis Ch. 07byWine_Maker©
Chapter Seven: Fighting the system
A shiver of horror washed through me as I turned back to Gretchen. Her right hand was smeared with blood and she was as pale as a ghost. My first thought was personal: how the hell do I get myself mixed into these unbelievable situations? I shoved that thought away. There would be time for personal thoughts later, but right now, as much as I wanted to sweep her into my arms to protect her, Gretchen needed Hawk the cop, not Hawk the wife. I shook my head. I couldn't believe I even thought of myself as the wife. Gretchen moved, stepping back again and reaching to cover her mouth. That focused me instantly.
With a quick step, I snagged her arm before she got blood on her face. Her eyes held panic and terror. "Gretchen, look at me," I said calmly. "Focus on me. Don't touch anything with your hands."
She swallowed and visibly brought herself under control.
"What happened here?" I asked, my cop voice cutting through her panic.
"I... I don't know." Gretchen tried to look back toward the bathroom, but I shifted a half step and blocked her line of vision. I needed her to focus on me, to tell me what happened, and I knew we didn't have much time. "I came up here to tear a strip off of Kat for that stunt she pulled with the senator. The door was open, so I came inside, ready to fight."
"Where did you get the knife?" I asked.
"It was on the floor beside the door," she said, looking at me trying desperately to control her panic. "Hawk, I didn't do this! I didn't know what was happening. I just picked up the knife and found them when I came in. I didn't kill them. I swear!"
An instinct I didn't even know I had within me wanted to grab her, protect her, and reassure her. The sound of running feet in the hall saved me from this new feeling, and a moment later one of the guards was at the door.
"Stop!" I told him before he could step inside. "This is now a crime scene. Call 9-1-1 and tell them two people have been murdered. Don't let anyone in here without my say-so, and lock down the house. No one leaves. Understand me?"
The guard nodded, pulled out a radio, and spoke softly into it. Guests started coming into view in the hallway, but there was nothing I could do about that from in here, so I turned back to my wife.
"When the police come I want you to cooperate, but do not answer questions until you have a lawyer. If Lisa and Ted are back, she can fill in as counsel until you hire one." I said softly.
"But Hawk," she protested, "I didn't do this!"
"Keep your voice down, Gretchen!" For a moment, the cop and the spouse battled, and I allowed the spouse out for a moment. "Honey, I believe you," I said reassuringly. I sighed. That was all the time I could give to the spouse. "Unfortunately, the police won't believe you right away. Two dead bodies and you found standing over them with a bloody knife looks really bad."
She looked like she wanted to collapse, so I put my arm around her. "It's not going to be fun, but we can get you through this, if you listen to me."
A commotion at the door signaled the arrival of Hans, who tried to push past the guard and looked angry at being stopped. "What the hell is going on in there? Let me through."
"Let him through," I told the guard, "but clear these other people out of the hall and back down into the Crystal Room." Other guards courteously began herding the guests back out of the hall as I stopped Hans from going any further than the doorway.
"Hawk, tell me that this is not as bad as it looks," he said, looking at Gretchen who was trying to stand and keep her hand well away from her body. "Is someone hurt?"
"Yes," I said, grabbing him by his shoulders and turning him towards me. I hated this part. Regardless of how I felt about Kat, I had to remember that Hans loved her, and there was no easy way to tell someone that a loved one had been murdered. Without thought, I fell back into cop mode. "There's been a murder, Hans. Two murders, actually. Hans, I'm sorry, but someone has killed Senator Cartwright and Kat."
For a moment, he didn't understand what I had said. Then he puffed up and tried to get past me. "That can't be! I just saw her fifteen or twenty minutes ago."
I held him, keeping him from coming in. "Don't fight me on this, Hans. She's gone and I can't let you contaminate the crime scene."
Hans took a deep breath and tried to force his way past me again, so I pushed him back out into the hall. "You're lying!" he shouted. "Gretchen, tell her that she's wrong!"
"Oh, Daddy," I heard Gretchen sob from inside, "I'm so sorry."
Hans bent over like someone had punched him in the gut. I held him up, my arms going around him. "Nothing I say can stop the pain, Hans, but you're not alone. The person that did this will be found."
He blinked and looked up. "Please. Please tell me it wasn't Gretchen. Please, Hawk."
"It wasn't Gretchen," I told him. "The police will probably treat it as though she did, at first, but I don't believe she did it for one second. You need to make a choice right now, Hans. Your little girl is in the worst trouble she has ever been in, and you need to decide if you believe her. Someone killed your wife, and fingers will be pointing at Gretchen as soon as the police get here. I'm a homicide detective, and I'm telling you that I have looked at the crime scene, and that I know your daughter. Given those two things, I don't think she did it. I believe her. Do you?"
He held his hands over his eyes for a moment and nodded. "I can't believe she would do this. Fight with Kat, yes. Kill her, no. And kill Senator Cartwright, too? I just can't believe it."
"Then tell her that," I said forcefully. "Right now she feels all alone and is afraid you'll think the worst. You two need each other now more than ever. Tell her you believe her. Tell her, and then let someone take you back downstairs. She is going to need a good criminal lawyer fast. I'm sorry, but Kat is gone. You need to focus on the living."
His jaw firmed through the despair. "Yes." He stepped around me and to the door of the room. "Baby, I know you didn't do this. We'll fight this together. I love you."
Her face streaming tears, she started for the door and I had to keep her in the room. "I'm sorry, Gretchen, but you can't leave. Not yet."
To my relief, Ted and Lisa arrived at the door just then. "Thank God! Ted, please take Hans downstairs and help him. Lisa, we need you now, and we need you badly." Ted led the now stumbling Hans away.
I quickly filled Lisa in, and she bore up under the shock pretty well.
"You deal with your end, Hawk. I'll deal with protecting Gretchen. Now, shoo."
I left her talking earnestly to Gretchen and walked to the doorway. Kneeling down, I could see some blood on the carpet beside the door. From the general appearance, I guessed that this was where Gretchen had found the knife, just like she said. It looked to have been dropped here by someone on the way out the door.
I stepped over to take a good look at the supposed murder weapon. A large bladed kitchen knife with a rough, easy grip handle. Zero chance for prints on that surface, though if the killer cut him or herself on the blade because of a slip, there might be some DNA.
Walking back to the bathroom doorway, I looked over the dead bodies with a professional eye. I was already walling off the feelings, the emotion. It didn't matter that I disliked both of them. It was my job to see justice done. Or, it would have been if this was my turf, not that I intended to let their killer escape just because it wasn't. It all depended on who the cops were that caught the case.
Without touching anything, it was hard to get a complete picture, but it looked like Kat went down first as her arm was under Cartwright. She had been facing the shower, I thought, from all the blood on the floor on that side. My take was that she fell and bled out in seconds.
Cartwright had been turned mostly toward the wall away from Kat. At least, the way the blood spatter on that wall and portion of the ceiling were consistent with what I'd expect to see if he had been turned that way. CSI would be able to tell for certain.
I shook my head. Kat looked to be the first victim, but that just didn't sound right. Cartwright was a sizeable man, why kill Kat first? Also, if Kat had been killed while Cartwright was in the room, normal human instinct would be to turn toward the disturbance, not away from it. It just didn't seem to add up
My thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the police. A uniformed woman came into the room and took in the scene at a glance. "Miss, please step away from there," she told me, and I didn't argue. She kept the scene clear until the detective arrived. He was a small black man in his late forties, his thinning hair turning gray.
The detective gave us a cursory look and then looked at the bodies. "Officer Brighton, secure the crime scene and get all these people separated for questioning." He looked like a burn-out, one of those homicide detectives that had seen too much and were on their last legs. The kind of person that pigeon-holed people and didn't dig too deeply for facts. Someone looking for an easy solution. I hoped I was wrong.
Lisa started the ball rolling by refusing to leave Gretchen. "I'm her counsel and where she goes, I go."
The still unidentified detective put his hands on his thin hips and cocked his head at Gretchen. "That's fast. Look here, girl, lawyering up is the worst thing you can do. Just cooperate and we'll get this sorted out. If you start off with a shyster, it only makes you look guilty."
"I don't think so, detective," Lisa said coolly. "Shall we let your people look her over so she can wash up?"
"In good time," he answered her huffily. "Officer, take this other lady out," he said pointing at me.
"Sorry," I said, "I'm her other counsel and her wife. I stay."
He gave me a pissed look. "What is this, argue with the police day? Just go with the officer."
"I'm with her. You drag me out of here and you're looking at a shitload of trouble from her lawyers about stripping her of counsel," I said, crossing my arms.
"I'm not questioning anyone yet," he said, peeved. "I have the scene to look over, and the techs will be here to go over all of you." He threw up his arms. "Fine, we'll start by questioning her, but not in here. Come with me."
He led us back into the hall that was rapidly filling with police and into another bedroom. He set one of the wooden chairs out so that Gretchen could sit in it. "You two sit on the bed."
I gave in and sat on the bed where Gretchen could see me, but Lisa pulled up another chair and sat beside her.
The detective pulled up a chair and flipped it around and sat with the back between his legs. A position of intimidation. "You three are getting on my last working nerve."
Lisa smiled at him. "I'm Lisa Stansbury, this is Gretchen Werner. The lady on the bed is Shauna Hawkins. Who are you, detective?"
"Detective Sergeant William Sweeny, Miss Stansbury. Now, Miss Werner, tell me how you got that blood on your hand?"
Gretchen stumbled through the same story I had gotten from her with Lisa keeping her to just the bare bones and blocking any more-in-depth questions.
When she told him I had come in right after she found the bodies, Sweeny looked at me, his eyes hard.
"It doesn't sound like you're counsel, Miss Hawkins. You smell like a witness to me," he said.
I opened my purse and pulled out my badge. "I'm on the job in Houston."
He took it and looked it over, his eyebrows rising. "Pretty odd that a homicide detective happens on a murder scene right after it happens."
I shrugged and took my badge back. "Call it a gift. Look, it's been an odd week. You've got her initial statement. Let the crime scene boys take her and get what they need. Then, you can grill me."
"Well, Lieutenant Hawkins, that's my call to make, not yours," he said, leaning his chair back. "I say when this is over."
He turned back to Gretchen and made her go through everything he had just heard. I know he didn't expect to get something new right now; he just wanted to prove his dominance. Gretchen held up better this time and went through it like a champ.
When she was done, he turned her over to the techs, and Lisa went with her. I got up, flipped another chair around in front of his and matched the position of his seat, robbing him of his posturing. With the dress on, though, I had to sit side saddle. "Shall we take turns pissing on each other to prove how manly we are, or can we cut to the chase?"
Sweeny stood up abruptly, his face clouding with anger. "Don't you dare try that shit with me. Your wife is in a world of hurt, and you know I'm going to book her pretty little ass on two counts of Murder One. If the evidence plays out like I think it will, she'll go down hard. It looks open and shut to me, Miss Texas detective, so you go on back downstairs, and I'll try not to let your bullshit piss me off any more than it already has. And, you're out as counsel." He held up a hand to shortstop my objection. "You're a witness, pure and simple. Don't push me on this or I'll toss you in with her. Get moving and let me process my crime scene."
"Bullshit. The spatter evidence by itself points at another person as the perp," I snarled in exasperation.
"Tell it to the judge. Now get out," he huffed, rising to his feet.
Gritting my teeth, I backed down and walked out of the room. This wasn't going to be easy. Dick Cheese already seemed to have made his mind up. That meant he wouldn't be looking for evidence that pointed at anyone but Gretchen. In fact, he might suppress any exculpatory evidence he did find. Some people were like that. I needed to get on this right now. Time to talk to my father-in-law.
The guests had apparently already been processed and funneled out of the house. At least, if they hadn't all been processed and were still in the house, they weren't in plain sight. All the people that were visible were cops, medical examiners and a pair of people just coming in the front with crime scene jackets on. CSI... Crime Scene Investigators. Not as high speed as the television show make them out to be, but still damned impressive, when they put their minds to work and their tools to good use.
I stopped them just shy of the stairs and showed them my badge. "Excuse me, but one of the deceased is my mother-in-law, and the detective looked like he had already made up his mind. Do me a favor: look hard, and look twice at what's up there. I want to see the guilty person pay, whoever that turns out to be, but I don't want to see it done so fast that we miss something that doesn't fit the moment's favorite story. Okay?"
The two, a young Hispanic man in his twenties and an older white woman glanced at each other and then back at me. "We don't rush to judge, detective," the older woman said. "Rest assured that we'll do our best and we'll be thorough. The facts will speak for themselves."
I nodded. "That's all I wanted to hear. Thanks."
After they went upstairs, I started searching around and found Hans in the Brown Room with Ted. Hans looked like hell and I couldn't blame him. Ted had placed a stiff drink on the table in front of Hans, but it looked untouched. When Ted looked at me, I gestured with my head for him to give me some time with Hans. Quietly, he slipped out, leaving us alone.
I knelt in front of Hans and took his hand in mine. God knows I wished I had less experience in dealing with people who had just suffered a terrible loss, but in this particular case I was damned glad that I did know how to deal with Hans and how to help him get things moving.
"Hey. How're you holding up?" I asked gently.
"Not very well," he admitted, squeezing my hand a little. "I don't believe it. I keep telling myself that it can't be true, that it's all some terrible joke. When it sinks in, I don't know what I'll do." He laughed, a hint of despair creeping into his voice. "I'm lying. I don't know what to do even now. If I do what I did when my first wife committed suicide, I'll be angry with everyone soon enough. I prayed I would never have to go through this again."
"Look," I started slowly, "I'm not going to sugarcoat this. It's going to be worse this time. The detective is an asshole, and he's going to charge Gretchen. He might hem and haw, but he's already made up his mind that she's the killer. Gretchen is in the worst spot she's ever been in, and no matter how much we do to help, she's all alone in the crosshairs. Hans, I need to hear it again. Did you believe her when she told you she didn't do it?"
Hans stared into my eyes, his jaw working. At last, he nodded. "I know it looks bad, but I just don't believe she would kill two people. No matter how much she hated Kat, I just cannot accept that she would kill her even in the heat of the moment, much less go get a knife and track her down. And I know of no reason that Gretchen would have to kill the senator. Gretchen is innocent. I'm sure of it."
I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. If he thought she was guilty, this would be much harder. "Then we need to get busy because the clock is ticking. Right now, CSI is upstairs gathering evidence, probably from Gretchen. As soon as they finish, Detective Sweeny will tell her he's taking her to the station to take her statement. Or, if he's a major asshole, he'll just arrest her now. Either way, she won't be leaving the precinct house except to go straight to jail. He flat out told me she would be charged with two counts of murder in the first degree. I'm not sure about here, but in Texas that means the death penalty is on the table."
He shook his head. "Not here in the bastion of the left. I believe they have mandatory life without the possibility of parole. You can thank the kind of people that would elect someone like Cartwright."
"That's still nothing to court, if we can dodge the bullet. By now, the news media is on high alert and rushing here, if they aren't here already. They have some of the story, though probably not many particulars. We need to do something I never thought I would do. We need to spin the press before the police or district attorney has a chance to do it. You need to make a statement to the press telling them what happened and explaining about the terrible circumstances Gretchen is in. If you sit back with a 'no comment', the DA will fry you in the press. Start it off with how the police already suspect Gretchen, how you know she didn't do it, and how you're afraid that they will go for the easy target and charge her simply because you're both rich and famous. Play the Hollywood angle: the famous get charged so the DA can make a name for himself and run for Governor."
He blinked at me in surprise. "But, then we'll be at war with the district attorney."
I smiled sourly. "You think you aren't? Ten to one he's already been called and is on his way downtown. He'll be calling a press conference as soon as Gretchen is charged. He will want her. She's his ticket to fame. Take the initiative while you can."
"Second thing, call the biggest name lawyer you know and get him down there. Gretchen needs to have a herd of high-priced lawyers breathing down the cops' necks. If they want the time of day, they need a warrant. Everything she says goes through them, but they'll already know all that. Get them there before they have a chance to start questioning her. Have them push hard for bail. It won't be cheap or easy, but with connections, deep pockets and luck, we might get her released tonight. Speaking of connections, if you know people in power, call them. Have them all start putting pressure in various places. That might help tilt the judge that makes the call."