The Second Season

Parental Advisory Rating: L, AC

Break out those V-Chips, everyone!


Created, Produced, Directed and Written:

Fanatic and TNovan


Episode Eight: The Eyes Have It

This feels nice. This is what I've been missing. A week without her in my arms was far too long. I don't ever want to do that again, but I know it's inevitable. Our jobs will demand it. But I hope the reunion is always this sweet.

Kels is tucked up against me, sleeping soundly. My right hand is splayed across her abdomen, covering our child. I imagine a slight swell to it already, but I doubt if that's possible. And I certainly won't tell Kels that. I don't want her to get insecure about her weight and size so early in the pregnancy.

We're going to have a baby. Inside her is a little life that will soon join us. It's in there now, growing, developing, becoming. Soon it will be able to hear us, and we will be able to hear its heartbeat. And, by Christmas, we'll have the best present ever.


I nuzzle the back of her neck and pull Kels even closer against my body. She's so petite compared to me. I slide my hand slowly over to her hip, caressing the skin there. She has such narrow hips, I hope giving birth won't be a problem for her. I don't want anything to hurt her. Ever.

I kiss her shoulder blade, unable to resist her skin for long.

She sighs in her sleep and rolls over onto her back. This affords me a wonderful view of her nude body, the sheet pooling around her waist. Yes, I've missed this, missed mornings with her.

I study her breasts, looking for any changes so far. They look good to me. If I were a baby, I'd be mightily pleased with these offerings. Hell, I'm not a baby and I'm mightily pleased. They're perfect: soft but firm and the perfect size. My hand covers her left breast, of its own accord, to measure it for later comparison.

God, that feels nice.

"Good morning to you too," Kels whispers, her voice rough with sleep. Her eyes barely open and all I can see is a hint of green.

I flush and withdraw my hand. "Oops, sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

She grabs my hand and resituates it. "I wasn't complaining. What are you doing up?"

"Watching you sleep."

She frowns and stretches, snaking an arm around my neck. "That mustn't have been very interesting." Her fingers tangle in the hair at the nape of my neck. With subtle pressure, she draws me closer to her.

We share a good morning kiss. "I missed you so much," I confess. "It took everything in me to not fly home every night to be able to sleep beside you."

She traces my lips with a fingernail, sending shivers down the length of my spine. "I wanted you home so badly, Harper. I couldn't sleep without you."

"I'm sorry, baby."

"Not your fault." She shakes her head. We both know she blames the story on Langston. Better him than me.

"Well, you're stuck with me now. Although, remember the last time we were in a hotel room together?" New York City. Christmas morning.

She laughs. "My mother! I thought she'd pass out when she caught sight of you. That stretch you did too! My God! Delightful!"

"Well, I was pissed off."

"Why?" her voice is cautious, as if I had been mad at her.

"If I recall correctly, we had just begun to make love when your mother demanded entrance."



"I think I can safely guarantee my mother is nowhere near Columbus, Ohio right now."

I roll and cover her body gently with mine, careful to keep most of my weight on my arms, very aware of our child beneath me as well. "Thank God for that."


* * *


Stepping out of the shower, I hear the room door open and close. Then the bathroom door opens. "Breakfast is here," Harper announces, sticking her head in, letting out all the nice steam I had built up.

"Hey!" I protest, squeaking. "You're letting out my warmth, you brat! Go on, I'll be out in a minute." Please, close the door. The draft is killing me. "I swear you do that just so you can get a peek at me." It's the reason why I go into the bathroom when Harper is showering. Like I really can't wait to brush my teeth, or hair, or put lotion on.

"I don't need an excuse," she chuckles, ducking as my towel flies at her head.


"I'm going, I'm going! Geez."

Retrieving the towel, I dry off and pull on a robe. I rub the thick terry cloth through my hair, getting most of the moisture whisked away. My stomach rumbles. It's nice to be hungry again, I haven't been for the last week. But, then again, Harper always does manage to inspire my various appetites. I must keep up my strength for other activities.

Breakfast is served when I step out into our room. Harper, God love her, has ordered my usual, bagels and fresh fruit. That omelet she's sitting down to eat looks awfully good, though. Is this what pregnancy is going to be like? I'm gonna be a boat by the time the baby comes.

I take my seat across from her, so happy to be back to our normal routine. I don't like sleeping or eating without her. Among other things.

"I ordered decaf Earl Gray for you, sweetheart."

She noticed I was off caffeine. I love this woman. "Thanks," I say for both the decaf and the fact she is pouring me a cup right now.

I lean across the table and snitch a piece of her omelet with my fork. Wonderful. It's a country omelet with cheddar cheese, potatoes, onions and ham. I wonder if she'd let me switch meals with her? Taking a sip of juice, I take her hand in mine. "You are going to be such a great mom."

Harper gives me a totally blank look. "What are you talking about?"

I did tell her I'm pregnant, didn't I?

"You're going to be the mom," she continues, waving her fork at me before taking another bite of her omelet.

I realize she's totally clueless. Poor thing. I squeeze her hand gently. "Harper, honey?"


"You do understand I'm pregnant?"

"Yeah." She takes a big drink of her coffee. Her hand shakes slightly.

"That means in nine months we are going to have a baby." I place extra emphasis on the 'we' part of my sentence.


"That makes you a mom too, sweetheart. Think about it for a moment." I chuckle a bit and sit back to watch. Damn, I wish I had a video camera right now.

The fork falls from her hand, clattering on the plate and splattering omelet on the tablecloth. Expressive blue eyes raise up to meet mine. "Oh shit. Wow. I …"

I see the blood draining from her face, and I'm afraid she's going to pass out. I quickly move to kneel next to her chair. Patting the back of her hand, I fight to keep from laughing. She's slumped back, completely slack jawed. "Honey, are you okay?"

One of her hands rubs her face briskly, bringing color back to her features. "Yeah, I am. I just … I just hadn't thought of it that way."

Obviously. "Why not? You're gonna be a great mom."

"You think?"

"Oh, I don't have to think, I know."

"I never thought I'd get to be one."

"Well, get used to the thought, Tabloid. Because if we're figuring this thing right, it's all you're getting for Christmas this year." I stretch upward and give her a kiss on the jaw.

Harper cups my chin in her hand and our eyes meet. I can see unshed tears in her eyes, the kind that you get when you're happy. "Best gift I'll ever get," she whispers. "After you."


* * *


I’ve set up a lot of interviews for Kels to do this week, but today is Sunday. My Little Roo is here with me and we have the best reason in the world to celebrate: a Baby Roo. God, I still can’t believe it.

And, damn, I’m gonna be a parent - a mother - too. What a kick in the pants that was to realize. Don't know where my head was on that before.

I asked Kels if she wanted to go out and see the sights, or more appropriately the sight, of Columbus, but she declined. She’s tired, between lack of sleep during the week and then her last minute dash to the airport. So we’re staying in. The last thing I want now is for her to be overtired. Too much can still go wrong and we can lose little Baby Roo.

I’m going to do my level best to make sure that doesn’t happen.

While Kels rests in our room, I’m off to get the Sunday editions of the New York and L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Miami Herald. We are going to stay in, cuddle up, order lots of expensive room service, and do the crosswords. A perfect Sunday, as far as I’m concerned, because there will be lots of sex interspersed with those other activities. I’ve missed her.

The hotel concierge was kind enough to direct me to a bookstore that should carry all the papers I want. As I pull into the lot, it suddenly occurs to me: we gotta tell Mama.

Ah shit.

I am up to my ass in alligators. And the biggest one of them all is named Mama. I know exactly what will have her knickers in a twist: Kels is pregnant and we’re not married.

Mama won’t care that it wasn’t really me that impregnated her. Nor will she care that we can’t legally get married. It’s the principle of the thing.

I gotta get Mama off that damn committee.

Oh well. Nothing I can or want to do about it now.

I lock up the Explorer and head inside. The bookstore is well stocked and I find everything I’m looking for, including a baby name book. We can’t call our little one Baby Roo forever, as much as I’d like to. While in the pregnancy and childbirth section I find a few other books that will come in handy.

Having never actually spent more than a few days around a pregnant woman at any given time, I’m sure I’m in for a few surprises. I’d like a little bit of warning and not get blindsided. My brothers have all told me horror stories about their wives’ hormones going totally amuck during pregnancy. If Kels’ hormones go amuck now, I may be doomed.


* * *


I’m tucked all snuggly in a big bed with lots of pillows - ordered by Tabloid from housekeeping before she left -, well fed, very satisfied in other ways, wearing one of Harper’s big, old, baggy T-shirts. I’m very content to curl up around her pillow and half watch, half sleep through whatever movie is on TV at the moment.

She’s gone out to get ‘survival supplies’. She’s referring to the major newspapers, a bag of potato chips and a six pack of Coke. I saw the corpses of the other fallen soldiers when I got in last night. I hate the way she eats when she’s not home. Too much junk food in her system. I can almost hear her arteries hardening when I lay my head on her chest. I have a very good reason to keep her around for the next sixty years so I have to do something about her eating habits.

Well, most of them anyway.

A loud thud against the door brings me out of my doze with a little jolt. Harper made me promise to lock up tight behind her, which was totally unnecessary because I was going to do that anyhow. I’m guessing the second thump on our door is her attempt to knock. Her arms are probably too full of junk food to do so properly.

"Kels, honey!"

I chuckle at the plea as I drag my groggy, tired body out of bed. I wonder if this is from lack of sleep alone or if it is a side effect of being pregnant. I didn’t think these things would start so soon. I lean against the doorframe and call out, "Who is it?"

"Land shark. Who do you think it is?" she answers with humor in her voice.

"Hmm … I dunno. I should warn you I have an overprotective girlfriend who’s due back at any moment."

"Really? What does she look like? Maybe I’ve seen her."

"Oh she’s tall, long, dark hair, piercing blue eyes, the most beautiful smile you’ve ever seen in your life."

"Huh, you know, I resemble those remarks."

"You do?"

"Yup. You might wanna take a look. I also come bearing gifts."

I hear her rustle one of the bags she’s holding. "Well, now you’re talking." I pull the door open to find her arms loaded with bags from a local bookstore and a 7/11. I knew she wouldn’t pass up the junk food.

I try to help her with the bags but she just grunts and stumbles past me to toss them down on the bed. She rubs her arms and turns around. "Glad you opened the door, I was losing the circulation in my arms."

"Aww poor baby." I move to her, taking over the rubbing, merely to help get the blood flowing, mind you. "You lose feeling anywhere else?"

She quirks a brow at me. "A couple of spots actually. You want to rub them too?"

"Oh, absolutely." I nod, guiding her backwards toward the bed and giving her a little shove. She falls, missing most of the bags, but I think her chips bit the dust.

Too bad.


* * *


Kels is lying in my arms as we look through the baby name book together. I don’t ever intend to tell our child that we first gave consideration to his or her name stark naked, after making love in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio. Well, maybe I’ll share that at his or her wedding rehearsal dinner.

"How about Cyril for a boy?" I offer, flipping past the name in the book. I’m not really serious, I just want to get a reaction out of her.

"Cyril Kingsley? My God, Harper, why don’t we put a sign on his back the first day of school that says, ‘Beat me up and take my lunch money’?"

"I’ll take that as a no."

She gives me an indignant look. "Take that as a huge no."

Suddenly what she said hits me. I glance down at her. "We’re going to give the baby my last name?"

Kelsey looks up at me, her fingers playing with the sheet a little. "I’d like to. I mean, we’re family. And your family is all our baby will have if something should happen to us. But, if you don’t …"

"No! I mean, of course, I want to. I’d be honored, Kels. I had only thought you’d want to use Stanton."

"No real reason to use Stanton. This baby is a Kingsley through and through. Its birth mother only happens to be stuck with Stanton."

"Okay, then." I give her a kiss on the forehead to try to lighten her mood a bit. "We’ve got a last name. Let’s find a first name."

"Not Cyril," she protests, snuggling down again and taking the book from me.

"Not Cyril," I promise, wrapping her up in my arms.

She wants our baby to have my last name. That’s a truly amazing feeling.


* * *


At our local affiliate, I’ve been given a small office to use to go over the case material and story notes. Harper is off with the remote crew, getting gear together and briefing them on the upcoming shoot.

You can tell Columbus and the surrounding communities don’t make national news often. They are even less frequently visited by producers and correspondents from national newsmagazines. Thus, the staff at the station are anxious to get involved in a big story like this. It looks good to the owners of the station, the general manager and the boys back at the network.

Harper’s briefing materials are extensive, as always. She’s smart in how she let me deal with them. She handed me her notebook with the summary sheet on top and didn’t say a word. She simply left me alone to read.

Now that I’ve finished, I have to admit her summary alone is almost enough to make me believe Johnstone is not the perpetrator of these disgusting crimes. It is certainly enough to make me consider that there is still another sick fuck out there who systematically raped, hurt and killed women in that small community.

Her summary made my gut clench, but it also makes me read the rest of the material.

1. In the eight months prior to Verrett’s death, there were five highly abusive rapes in and around the county. The victims were all young women between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-two. They were all students at the local community college. They all were well liked by their communities. They all lived alone. And none of them could, or would, identify their rapist. None of them would agree to talk to the press, now or at the time of their attacks.

2. Johnstone had iron clad alibis for three of the five rapes. Including one when he was sleeping off a drunk and disorderly charge in the town’s drunk tank.

3. Johnstone had been doing some handyman work at Verrett’s neighbor’s house the day before the rape. He had a couple of Rolling Rock beers toward the end of the day. The bottles had been placed in the trash which was not collected until two days after the murder. It is unknown if the bottles were still in the trash after the murders since the trash was not checked.

4. The only physical evidence placing Johnstone at the scene of the crime were those two Rolling Rock bottles which were not tested for fingerprints or DNA at the time of the first trial. They were, however, collected by the police when they first investigated the site.

5. Tissue and hair samples that were also used to place Johnstone at the scene of the crime were collected subsequent to the initial investigation, and after Johnstone was in custody, supposedly by cleaning the trap in the bathroom sink.

6. The Coroner’s report showed that Verrett’s hands had been handled at the scene. The police, rather than the coroner, scraped the nails which is not proper procedure. The hands should have been bagged for the coroner. These scrapings were what the prosecutor’s office provided as the basis for comparison in the DNA testing during the appeal.

7. In addition, the police, not the coroner, used the rape kit. This is highly unusual; police departments don’t do this type of exam. They found no semen which could have also been used by the lab to extract DNA evidence. It is unclear if this lack was because the police didn’t test for it or because there simply wasn’t any. There was no evidence presented whether she had been violated by a man’s sexual organ or if a phallic object had been used to produce the bruising, tearing and abrasion that was the primary evidence of rape.

8. The fingernail scrapings were "misplaced" and delivered to the lab for testing only during the appeals process. The case was already more than four years old at that time.

9. Verrett’s neighbor had seen a man, not Johnstone, leaving her residence around midnight of the night of the murder. She could not, or would not, identify the man.

10. Visiting the local restaurants and taverns in the county yielded some interesting information. All six women had at some point in the prior year dated the same group of men. Johnstone was not one of them. In fact, to the best of anyone’s memory, Johnstone had never met four of the six victims.

11. Three of the county’s more "eligible" bachelors had dated each of the victims. One was at law school in Wisconsin and was out of the area at the time of the murder. One had been in Columbus at the time of the murder attending training with his company. One had been in town the night of the murder. That one is the nephew of the Mayor.

Interestingly enough, he is also the nephew of the police sergeant who was the leader of the investigation team. His mother is the mayor’s wife’s sister. His father is the sergeant’s brother.

Harper has set up three interviews for me. The first is with Johnstone’s second wife. The second is with the lab technician who conducted the DNA testing for the appeal. The last one is with Johnstone.

I don’t know if Johnstone is the perpetrator or not. But, after reading Harper’s briefing, I think he’s innocent. There’s plenty of evidence here to suggest he was railroaded, irrespective of guilt.

If so, there’s a sick bastard out there who has literally gotten away with murder. I’m going to find him and stop him. I won’t let him get away with it. I know all too well from experience that if he did it once, he’ll do it again. Now that he believes he is beyond justice.

I take a deep breath and shake myself just as Harper enters the office. She kneels next to my chair and takes my hand. "Chér, you okay?"

I nod and look at her. "Yeah. You were right. You’ll be getting more than just ‘professional’ from me."

Her smile is one of the most feral looks I’ve ever seen on her. "Good. Then let’s go nail the real bastard to the wall by his balls."

Ah, yes, paybacks are a bitch. But I preferred to be called Kelsey.


* * *


Harper holds my hand during the drive to Jamestown. The affiliate truck follows behind us. "You okay, babe?"

I nod, taking a deep breath. "Yeah, I’m fine. I’m a little sick at my stomach, that's all."

She swivels her head to look at me, giving me a happy grin. "Morning sickness?"

Geez, don’t sound so excited about it, Harper. You’re not the one who can look forward to worshipping the porcelain goddess on a daily basis in the near future. "No, definitely not. I wish it were, but it isn’t."

Her smile immediately fades. "I’m sorry."

"Stop apologizing, sweetheart. It’s not your fault our new boss is twisted like a pretzel."

She laughs, making me feel better. "Langston definitely is putting us through our paces with this story, darlin’, but you know what?"

"Yeah. We’re going to give him a story that’ll prove CBS spent its money well and hired the best damn team for the job."

"That’s my girl." She gives my hand a quick squeeze. "Now you want twisted? We’re about to drive right into it. Welcome to the booming metropolis of Jamestown, Ohio."

She’s right. I understand immediately when I see the sign at the local gas station proclaiming proudly that it sells cappuccino and live bait.

God, I hope not together.

And, please, God, keep me from having a craving like that.

Alicia Johnstone opens the door to her home in one of the poorer parts of town. Of course, there’s really not much difference between neighborhoods. The entire area is depressed. As I would be, if I had to live here.

The furnishings are sparse and threadbare, but the place is immaculate. There’s a picture of Jesus on the wall. How they had cameras in 25 AD, I’ll never know. It’s the only decoration in the home other than a bunch of wildflowers in a jelly glass on the table. There is an old TV in the corner.

Alicia is also sparse and threadbare. She’s a little slip of a woman with washed out gray eyes, pale skin, and straight hair pulled back in a scraggy ponytail that could kindly be described as dishwater blonde. I can hear her child, born during Johnstone’s trial, crying in the back room.

"Come in and sit down. I need to see to my daughter real fast. I’ll be with you in a moment." Her voice is a thin whisper with a hillbilly twang reflecting the relationship between some of Ohio’s country folks and their Appalachian cousins from West Virginia.

Harper directs the camera crew to set up for an intimate interview, trying to keep the crush of equipment down to a minimum, and choosing an angle that will play up the simple sparseness of this woman’s life.

Alicia comes back in from taking care of her child. She wipes her hands on the legs of her jeans, then sits down where Harper directs her. I’ve never seen Harper so gentle with an interview subject. She personally wires the microphone, all the while quietly murmuring a few words to explain what she is doing and what will happen next. I sit down across from Alicia, with the camera over my shoulder and the cameraman standing directly behind me, so we can get the tightest, most direct shot possible.

As usual, I start with a few general questions – things like where are you from originally, how did you meet your husband. It relaxes people, and helps them focus on what I’m asking instead of the camera.

Next comes the critical stuff: the night of the murder.

"You said your husband was here with you the night of the murder. Could you tell me what you two did that night?"

"Well, you see, I’d found out I was pregnant about three weeks before. So I went to Reverent Blackwell to talk about how to get Frederick to straighten up. I wanted him to be a good daddy for our baby."

"Tell me more."

"Well, Stoney – we call him Stoney because of his last name, you know? Anyway, Stoney has a little trouble with the beer bottle sometimes, if you know what I mean. He starts pulling on them and doesn’t always stop when he should. That makes him angry and he’s been know to get a little out of hand."

"Yes. I understand he roughed a couple of women up when he’s been drinking, including his first wife. Has he ever hurt you?"

"A push, a slap. Nothing serious. That’s the point. We went to see Reverent Blackwell when I got pregnant to find a way for Stoney to get this demon under control."

Now is not the time to explain that being pushed and slapped is serious. We have far more urgent matters to deal with first. "You weren’t with Reverend Blackwell that night, were you?"

"No, we were here, praying. See, Stoney promised to stop drinking when he found out I was pregnant. Reverend Blackwell said that he had to straighten up his life so he could be a good daddy. He also said Stoney should pray God would see he was trying and would forgive him for all the years he lived as a sinner. But that day, Stoney fell off the wagon and had a couple of beers after work. When he came home, around nine, I told him he had to pray for forgiveness. So, we were here praying together." She waves her hand toward the dime store picture of Jesus on the wall.

"Why didn’t you testify at Stoney’s trial?"

She looks at me shocked that I could ask her this question. "I wanted to, Ms. Stanton. I asked to several times but I was told that a wife can’t testify in cases about her husband. Everyone said it’d be best if I let his attorney handle everything. Even Reverend Blackwell said it’d be best. Who am I to argue with the Reverend?"

I see Harper tense in my peripheral vision. She can’t believe it either. I continue on with the interview. "Was Stoney a bad man before you got pregnant?" I am very gentle as I ask her this; it’s critical as to establishing his character and credibility.

"He most certainly was, I am ashamed to admit."

My heart sinks a bit. I thought I was getting a totally different slant on this man until she said that.

"Yup, he’d cuss and swear and take the Lord’s name in vain, and drink way too much. But he wasn’t as bad as some. He never stole nothing. He never hurt any body real bad. He took care of his momma until she died. So if you look at the Commandments, he only broke a couple of them. I figure there are lots worse folk out there." She takes a deep breath and raises her eyes to meet mine. I see her pain. I can feel it and all most taste it. She’s hurting too, but for all kinds of different reasons.

"I gotta tell you, Ms. Stanton, I don’t understand why God is punishing us like this. I guess this is a trial ordained for us. Maybe God is taking Stoney early because he’s genuinely sorry for his sins. Maybe God doesn’t want any more temptation placed in front of him. I gotta find a way to deal with that and to bring his baby up as a God-fearing woman. Reverend Blackwell’s been so good about being there for Lil and me."

Yeah, I’ll bet. I saw Harper’s notes on this Blackwell character. He’s a nearly illiterate, charismatic, born again, single minister whose congregation is mostly poor, illiterate women and children. I wonder how attentive he’s been to the prospective widow to be. Fortunately, I have what I need – a believable alibi for Johnstone. "So, can I see your daughter? Her name is Lil? When was she born?"

Smiling, Alicia gets up, nearly tripping over her mike cord. Harper moves quickly and catches her, pulling the wire off. She motions for the cameraman to keep shooting, off the shoulder, as we duly troop into the little bedroom where young Lil is now sleeping quietly.

For a moment, looking down at the small slumbering form, I can see our future, Harper’s and mine. I can see our child lying at peace, unaware of the turmoil of the world, happy to be fed and warm and loved. I can’t help but smile. When I look up and meet Harper’s eyes, I know she is thinking the same thing.


* * *


The next interview is easier. We make the trek back to Columbus. I have never been so glad to leave a place in my life. The atmosphere in that little, two bit town is oppressive. I swear, everywhere we went there was a cop somewhere nearby. Thugs with guns.

Ann Harcort is the technician at the lab that did the DNA identification. The real problem here is in the chain of custody for the evidence. We do the interview standing, camera on the shoulder of our shooter, and using the boom mike above her head. It’s gonna be short and hopefully sweet.

I begin, "Ms. Harcort, thank you for your time. Could you tell me, please, how certain you are that the material you received is, in fact, from Mr. Johnstone?"

"As you know, in science, there is always some room for question. Scientists hate to say anything is absolute. But so far, we have not found anyone except identical twins that have exactly the same DNA signature. I would say that there is a 1 in 2.3 billion chance of our conclusion being inaccurate. This is Mr. Johnstone’s DNA."

"Your tests, however, do not go to the source of the DNA, do they? For example, if I give you nail clippings and say I found them at the scene of a crime, you have no way of verifying that, do you?"

She shakes her head. "No, of course not. I can only tell you whose nail clippings they are."

"Could you tell us how you received the evidence that you tested?"

"The sample we tested for the appeal came directly from Mr. Johnstone while at the prison facility. It was harvested by the medical doctor there."

"But the evidence used for comparison testing was submitted by the prosecutor’s office, and didn’t come directly from Mr. Johnstone, did it?"


"Where did it come from? Do you recall?

"Well, as usual, it should have been brought over to us from the coroner’s office. There was some irregularity in this though, as I recall. Let me check the file."

"Thank you."

We keep the camera rolling as she goes to the file cabinets behind her desk and pulls out a file folder.

"Oh, yes. Here it is. The delivery was made by a Robert Oldive. Usually Josie Andrews – the chief tech over at the coroner’s office – makes the deliveries and signs over the evidence. This Oldive fellow was from the Jamestown Police Department, not from the coroner. That’s unusual. That’s why I made the note on the file. It struck me as odd, but I wasn’t called to testify. Only my lab notes and reports were subpoenaed. "

"You never testified?"

"Never." She shakes her head.

That’s unusual.

Damned unusual. Now it’s all starting to fall into place. It’s become more and more clear that Frederick Johnstone was railroaded directly into jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect any evidence that might exonerate him. And certainly don't incriminate one of your own.

Robert Oldive is the nephew of both the Mayor and the police sergeant. Robert Oldive is also one of the men who dated each of the women who were assaulted. And Robert Oldive is not a member of the police force, an employee of the coroner’s office or of the prosecutor’s office. He works for his uncle, the Mayor. And Robert Oldive fits the description of the man that Verrett’s neighbor saw leaving that night.

Robert Oldive is our man.



* * *


It’s time.

Time to interview the man I have started to think of as Stoney. Time to face a man who a jury of twelve good men and women found guilty of a vicious rape and murder. Time to meet a man the courts said was another sick SOB like that beast who nearly killed my soul and who did kill my best friend as well as a series of women whose only crime was to look a little like me.

This interview should have me tied up in knots. But it doesn’t. Harper, bless her heart, has crafted this whole story so clearly that I know as I go into this great, gray, concrete and razor wire complex that I am on my way to talk to an innocent man.

Now, mention Robert Oldive to me, and I start sweating and shaking. I’m sure he’s the one. In my gut, I know. Harper and I only have to prove it.

The Warden is very cooperative. He greets us cordially, and smoothly expedites getting our crew and equipment into the complex, through security check, and to a small, bare room with a couple of tables and a few simple, wooden chairs. The camera crew sets up while Harper and I go over our notes together.

Soon they lead Johnstone in. Stoney is a little man, slender and wiry. His face is prematurely aged from time in the sun, harsh weather and too much beer. His whole presence is one of gentle resignation. He rarely looks up. He looks lost in the loose, orange jumpsuit that is common prison wear.

He sits quietly in the chair across the table from me and barely moves when the sound tech wires him up, except to murmur a soft "thank you" when he’s done. He sits there, hands folded in front of him, waiting for me. I think he’s praying.

I clear my throat to gently interrupt. "Good afternoon. I’m Kelsey Stanton. Can I call you Stoney?"

He looks up, straight into my eyes. "Pleased to meet you, Ms. Stanton. Everybody calls me Stoney. I understand you saw my wife and child. How are they?"

I draw a sharp breath. I hadn’t expected him to start off questioning me. The look on his face, the gentleness with which he asks about his child and his wife startles me. This is not the face of a killer, the dead eyes of madness. This is a sad, resigned man who loves his family.

"Yes, I saw them yesterday. Your daughter is beautiful, Stoney. And Alicia is doing as well as can be expected. I understand Rev. Blackwell and the congregation are helping her out with things."

"Maybe that’s why God is doing this to me. The reverend is certainly better able to take care of Alicia and Lil than I am. I mean, look where I am. So there’s some good in that they won’t hurt because of me."

"What do you mean, Stoney?"

"I figure this is God’s punishment for my sins, Ms. Stanton. I know I didn’t hurt that girl. Shoot, I don’t even remember meeting her. You know, when I work on somebody’s house, I always chat with the neighbors to try to drum up extra work. But the Lord works in mysterious ways, and the Lord’s justice is always fair. Even if we don’t agree. I was a wild boy and a wild man. I drank, cursed, and generally messed up. So I figure that since I saw the light, well, the good Lord wants to take me up quick-like, so I don’t backslide no more. I fell back that day the poor girl died. I had me some beers when I’d promised Alicia and God I wouldn’t drink no more. This is my punishment, I guess. When I went home that evening, Alicia and I prayed and prayed to give me the strength to never drink again. Seems a little harsh, but I guess this is his answer to our prayers."

This man’s resignation stuns me.

And we have the story we need. The one hundredth innocent man on death row. An innocent man whose rigid born again faith thinks that an unjust death sentence is just punishment for falling off the wagon.

We go walk the rest of the questions Harper and I scripted, but I know that across from me is not the face or the heart of a murderer. This man is an innocent, in every meaning of the word.

As the guards lead him out of the room and the crew packs up, I remain seated for a few moments. Harper is at my side, her hand on my shoulder. I look to her and meet her smile. "He didn’t so it," I tell her. "He doesn’t have the eyes of a madman."


* * *


We take our notes and the tapes over to Harper’s friends at the law school. They start working feverishly, reviewing the latest information we’ve gathered. Phone calls are made, people come in and out. Papers are drawn up, printed. Professor Henley is practically glowing with excitement. Her students pick up her enthusiasm and echo it. Harper is in the thick of it with them, answering questions, talking about the work she’s done this week. It’s nice to see her getting some well deserved adoration.

I sit and think.

In my mind, all I can see is a madman going free and an innocent being deprived of his life, his wife, and his child. All because a corrupt, inbred family with control and standing in the community has protected one of their own. And I can’t stand the thought that some charismatic minister wants what a poor laborer has: the love of a gentle woman and an innocent child.

The conspiracy and complacency is sickening.

Because it is so different from my experience I can almost – almost – divorce myself from the emotions the story evokes in me.

I see his face again.

But now I can give him a new name: Robert Oldive.

And I remember what I experienced when faced with a man whose madness and insufficiency had to be proven on the bodies of women not strong enough to protect themselves.

I remember how it felt to pull that trigger and watch his face as the bullets entered his body and his blood drained out.

And I remember how he died.

I killed him.

I’ve killed and Robert Oldive has killed, but Frederick Johnstone hasn’t.

"Kels. Kels, chér. It’s time." Harper’s voice breaks into my memories. She looks at me with the oddest expression on her face. "Chér – are you ok? Is this getting to you?" She takes my hand and draws me out of my chair, walking us to a private alcove. She pulls me into her arms.

I feel wooden, almost dead. I take a deep breath, shaking myself back to the here and now. "I’m okay, Harper. In fact, I may be more than okay. When this is over, we need to talk – really talk – about what happened. But right now, we need to get Robert Oldive and get Stoney out of there."

She smoothes back some hair from my face. "That’s what’s about to happen, honey. The Governor has reviewed the case in the past hour. The Ohio State’s Attorney also reviewed it. The State Police are about to present subpoenas to most of the people we’ve interviewed in the last week. They’re also going to arrest Oldive on suspicion of murder, and arrest his uncles for being accessories after the fact, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, fraud, and perjury."

"Good work, Tabloid." I rub her back. I love the feel of her muscles under my hands.

"So here’s the plan. A couple of officers have been sent to bring Alicia and Lil to the prison. We’ll go there and shoot the release. Then we’ll leave to film the arrests. The timing is pretty tight, but all three of them should be at the police department which also doubles as the mayor’s office."

"Balls to the walls?" I chuckle.

"Oh yeah."


* * *


I’m standing in front of the mayor’s office. The arrests have been made. The turmoil over. The look Oldive gave us as they led him to the State Trooper’s car was enough for me. I’ll recognize that look for the rest of my life, the hatred of a sick man. I feel sick to my stomach, but I’ve got to do my stand up.

Harper is standing near the truck, arms across her chest. The wind is blowing gently through her hair. She smiles at me.

And then I know.

We survived.

We can go on with our life.

I know I have things to deal with and issues of my own to face, but getting through this story is a major step forward.

How lucky our baby will be to have Harper as its mother. How lucky I am to have her as my partner, both professionally and personally. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, centering myself. When I open them again, I turn to face the camera.

"Since the restoration of the death penalty, one hundred men have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die. Frederick Johnstone today joins a fortunate fraternity, the fraternity of the free. Based on an investigation led by Exposure and Professor Melanie Henley of Capital University Law School, the Governor of Ohio has pardoned Frederick Johnstone and ordered the arrest of the men who orchestrated his conviction to save one of their own. …"


* * *


"Well, Kingsley, I see where you get your nickname." Langston is standing over my shoulder, watching me screen tape with the editor.

I didn't hear him come up behind me. Gotta watch out for that. "Huh?" Still focused on the video in front of me, I merely grunt my lack of understanding.

"Yeah, I send you out to do a simple story on the application of the death penalty and you come back with a small town scandal, a conspiracy and an entire family under indictment. I'd say that's tabloid material. You must have some kind of muck magnet in that body of yours."

I turned around to stare at him in disbelief. With the files he gave me, it was obvious that some kind of cover up had occurred. Surely he had a hint as to what I'd find.

"Course, the hints were there," he confirms, on cue, "so you just dug up the obvious. One of these days, I'm gonna send you on a story you actually have to work to develop." With that, he turns and disappears leaving me frustrated as hell.

I did have to work for this story. I also had to suffer the indignity of being frisked by those idiots. That alone is worth my salary for the year.

I turn back to the tapes and give my editor a grumpy look. He chuckles and shrugs. "There’s a reason why we didn’t phone in a sighting of him when the milk carton came out."

"I guess so," I mutter.

I get back to work on our story. A real story, a significant one about the way small towns can become insulated and take the law in their own hands.

Then Kels and I are going to do that piece on alternative religions and anything else Langston cares to give us. Because we’re better than anyone or anything he can throw at us.

I start laughing.

Damn, he’s good. I knew I could learn something from him.


* * *


It's so good to be home. Well, at least, back in New York. Home won't be for another three weeks when we head to New Orleans for Easter. I can’t remember the last time I was with my family for Easter. We never dyed eggs because Mother didn’t want to risk getting any food coloring on her outfit. And forget about an egg hunt. Can’t risk leaving one outside where it might get stinky.

I bet Mama doesn’t feel that way.

I notice Harper seems a little edgy about going home this time. I wonder if it has anything to do with the baby. I would have thought she'd be thrilled.

Oh God, I hope she's not having second thoughts about the whole thing now.

Don’t be silly, Kels. She’s thrilled. You’re thrilled. Everything’s fine.

I turn on my computer and start digging around on the net. I am a woman on a mission. I'm not doing another damn thing until I get the answer to my question. Today is the thirtieth of March. The day the Peabody Awards are announced on their web site. I've been checking the site all day with no luck.

Harper and I have barely seen each other here. I can't wait until the day is over and we can go home, but dammit I'm not going home without the answer to this one, simple question. I mean, is that too much to ask?

I open the site again.

Oh my God!

There it is: KNBC for "Face-off in Omaha".

That’s all it says. But it’s enough.

We won.

We won.

We won!

Okay, I'm completely stunned. Harper! Shit, I gotta find Harper!

I bound out of my office looking, yet again, like the cat that swallowed the canary. I kinda like feeling this way. I could get used to this.

I head directly for Harper’s office. I find her blinds drawn and her door closed. She might be in a meeting. Guess I better knock first.


Oh, what a grouch. Someone’s having a bad day. I bet I can make it better for her. I open the door slowly, sticking my head in to make sure she's alone before I slip into her office.

"Since when do you knock?" she grumbles. She’s at her editing machine looking at recent footage.

"Since we're at work and you might have been in a meeting, you grump." I go over and sit on the arm of her chair, tilting her chin up to focus her attention fully on me. "Hey, Tabloid, you know what we’re going to be able to tell our baby?"

She frowns, clearly not in the mood to play. "What?"

"His or her Mama is a Peabody Award winning producer."

Ah, there's that smile I love so much.



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