Lifeline
Chapter 18

Elizabeth was holding a photo in her hand when she walked out. She was studying it intently.

"What is this?" she asked.

I pulled it from her hand, the cell phone still in my hand even though no one was on the other end.

"There are two more coming in," I said. " Print them for me, please."

At least I was polite. The photo was from a red-light camera and was of the rear of a gray Ford Escape. I could clearly see the license number, not that it meant anything to me. There was no second photo. I frowned as I heard Elizabeth come into the room. Her face was set in confusion and I could tell the blood had drained from it.

I wished there had been a better way to prove my suspicions but it was obvious she had a blind spot toward certain people.

"Ben, what is this?" she asked.

"I think you know," I said as I held out my hand for the single photo. I figured she must be waiting for the second batch to print. Those would answer all her questions.

She handed me the print and I looked at it. I know the confusion that I saw on Elizabeth's face was mirrored on mine. The person in the photo wasn't who I expected. In fact, I wasn't sure who it was that was looking at me through the windshield. He seemed familiar but I couldn't place the face.

"Who is Jeffrey Sinclair?" I wondered if the man in the photo was the mythical county employee who had signed out the vehicle when it was first assigned to the county.

"He was the task force commander until, oh, I would say five years ago or so," Elizabeth asked. "He retired. I heard he was working on a fishing boat in Mobile Bay."

I looked back down at the picture for a moment. By the time I looked up again, Elizabeth had disappeared into my office again. She returned and sat down heavily in the chair opposite me. She shook her head, either in denial or disappointment. I wasn't certain of which.

Wordlessly she handed over another of the pictures. The first showed the vehicle from the rear. The license number was the same as the first photo I'd seen but the time stamp was early morning instead of late at night.

"I don't understand this," Elizabeth admitted. "I just don't know how it's possible. He shouldn't have access to a county vehicle!"

"You know who this is?" I asked.

"Yeah and so do you," Elizabeth noted as she gave me the last photo. Pam I recognized in an instant. She was staring straight ahead with a look of incomprehension on her face. Seeing the driver in context to someone else made the pieces click together in my head.

"That cop from the prelim," I said. "The one who isn't a detective."

"Wallace Mann," Elizabeth said, still shaking her head. "I can't figure out how he got access to a county owned vehicle. He's not insured."

"Christ, Elizabeth," I muttered. "That's what you're worried about? Think about all the rules the Task Force boys broke. Is it really a stretch to think they might not worry about something as inconsequential as insurance?"

She nodded absently.

"You thought it would be someone else, didn't you?" she asked.

"I thought it would be Paul Scarborough," I confessed. "I mean, it made sense. He is eager to gain your favor. What would do that more than netting Huntley for you? He drove her to the hospital. That was the thing that pointed me in his direction more than anything. Do you remember that weekend? Pam left her purse and cell phone in our car. She knew no one down here and she had no money. Wherever she went that weekend, someone drove her. Whatever she bought, someone else paid for. We knew it wasn't us. It just made sense it was whoever took her to the hospital."

"I think you're probably right," Elizabeth said as she looked at the photo of Pam and Mann.

"Scarborough took her to the hospital," I pointed out.

"No," Elizabeth said. "That's something else I wanted to talk to you about. After the melee, Judge Castille did instruct Paul to take Pam to the hospital to have her hand checked out. But Paul got called into an assessment meeting before he was even out of the courthouse. They were trying to determine if his cover was blown or if it was safe to send him back undercover."

"You spoke to him about this?" I asked incredulously.

"No!" Elizabeth said. Her voice was loud enough that I wondered if Lauren would awaken. I heard nothing from her bedroom so I turned my attention back to my wife. "Ben, I listened to what you said today. I really did. You could have used that during trial and there is no way we'd have convicted Huntley. It made sense – all of it, even the part you didn't say then but just told me now. I actually thought of that while I was considering things. So I pulled the department logs for that day. If you were right, I was going to help you as much as I could."

"And you trust the department logs?" I asked.

"No," Elizabeth said again. "I don't trust any paperwork that comes out of there. So I called the former task force commander. I didn't tell him why but I asked about that day. I actually told him that Pam was thinking about suing the county and I needed to verify the presence of any potential witnesses. He bought it – or at least he didn't question me very hard about it. He didn't know much so I asked him specifically about Paul. He remembered that meeting very well. Paul wanted to go back in the field and it led to a large fight. I pressed him to make sure it didn't happen later but he was certain. It was his last day on the job. His bosses reassigned him at Dwyer's insistence. She spent her afternoon dismantling the Task Force – or trying to. By the afternoon, the news was out and things were back to normal – except the captain was told he would have a new assignment on Monday. He's been in traffic since."

I nodded as the new picture came into view.

"So he must have gotten Mann to take her to the hospital," I said. "Why don't you call Paul to make certain?"

"I can't do that," Elizabeth answered.

"Christ, are we back to the confidentiality thing again?" I shot back. She blanched at the explosion but her voice was calm when she replied.

"I don't have a number for him," she explained. "At least not here. I probably have a home number for him at the office but I don't carry things like that with me."

"Sorry," I muttered.

"Ben, I told you the truth," she continued, looking directly at me. "Outside of the office, I have not spent a moment with Paul Scarborough in 15 years. I do not know where he lives unless it is the same shitty apartment he had when he was a new patrolman. I do not have a phone number for him or an e-mail address. I do not want either and I would tell him that if he were to offer them. I don't know how I can convince you of this but it's the truth."

"I said I'm sorry," I said. "I took his actions toward you as welcome. I misjudged the situation."

"No, you're right," she said. "I was just as wrong for letting him behave that way as you were for jumping to the wrong conclusion. I told you today: If I had seen the same situation, I would have assumed the same thing. I drew that conclusion about you and Michelle on far less than that. Let's just call it closed. We have other things to talk about."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Like how we're going to tie Pam to Mann," she told me. "We have a photo of him driving her away from a crime scene. We can't link them in any other way. She doesn't appear on the shot of him driving over. Every piece of evidence can be chalked up to coincidence."

"Or he can claim he had no idea of what she had planned," I suggested.

"Or that," Elizabeth agreed with a nod. "We also have to figure out how to get Pam off the street. We know she did it and we could probably get a warrant on just what we have. We can't just leave her out there."

I shrugged. It was something I had considered since I recognized Pam on the video.

"If I thought she was likely to kill again, I would say we go ahead and drag her down here for trial," I said with a sigh. "The truth is, well, you know this so I'll just say it. If I had known where Biff went, I would have paid him a visit – or I would have let Tiny know and let him deal with it."

"Ben, she was willing to let someone else take the fall," Elizabeth pointed out. "I just can't see how things got done so quickly. I mean, Mann would have what, 15 minutes with her. I'm also not sure whose idea it was. I just can't see her being able to solicit his help."

"She's still an attractive woman," I pointed out. "And Mann is not a handsome man."

Elizabeth frowned at my description.

"Perhaps," she said.

"See, when I was sure Scarborough was her accomplice, I sort of painted a scenario in my head," I said. "You don't really know Pam. When she gets angry, she stays angry. She would have still been pissed off when she got in the car. She also spreads her anger around. Oh, most of it fell on you and me but Biff caught his fair share, I'm sure. I pictured her saying something like, 'If I knew where that son of a bitch was, I'd kill him myself.' And Scarborough – or now Mann, I suppose – would answer, 'Do you mean that?' And it would go from there."

Elizabeth had crossed her arms across her chest in a defensive posture so I assumed she didn't like my scenario.

"I wish you'd let up on Paul," she said.

"I wish I'd grow wings and learn to fly," I countered. "Neither is going to happen in this lifetime. The next time I see him touch you, I'm going to hurt him. You might want to let him know so it isn't a surprise. You might be flattered by his attention but I'm not impressed. If you want to let it continue, that's fine. Just file the divorce papers and you can do as you want. But don't forget that I'm a damned good child advocacy lawyer. Rest assured, I will have custody of Lauren when the dust settles. So, you can flirt or you can have a family. Take your pick."

Elizabeth closed her eyes but nodded. I could tell that my declarations – all of them – had surprised her.

"We'll talk about it later," she said.

"No, we won't," I answered sharply. "I've said everything I'm going to say on the matter. I think it is disrespectful not only to me but to you for him to think it appropriate to behave that way toward you. It is particularly disrespectful to do it when I am in the room. If you don't want it to stop, then you know what you need to do. If I find out you didn't put a stop to it, I'll do what I need to. What else do you want to talk about?"

"We were talking about how we're going to make a case against Pam and Wallace Mann," Elizabeth said.

"That is not my job," I said. "For now, it is your job to make that case. I've handed you the culprits on a platter. I will hasten to point out that all I did was basic police work – something you would think your vaunted Task Force could have accomplished given all the money that's being spent on it. Instead, they seem content to spend their time doctoring evidence to ensure convictions. Perhaps you should think about how much time and money your guys wasted over the past four months when you're putting together your budget for next year."

My voice had taken on the sarcastic tone that usually precipitated harsh words in the household. Since the harsh words were already flying, I guess Elizabeth decided to let it go.

"What would be your next step?" she asked.

"I would subpoena Mann's cell phone records," I said with a shrug.

"Do you think they're still in contact?" Elizabeth wondered.

"No, but I think Pam had to call Wells from somewhere," I pointed out. "I've already told you that her cell was still in our car. The hospital has no pay phones. I learned that last year during the Douglas case. In fact, I would doubt you even need a subpoena. I'm sure Mann's cell phone is county issued. Just have them pull up his call log. You should be able to track down any stray number. That would serve two purposes: You know if someone used it to contact Wells; and if they did, you have Wells' number to track."

Elizabeth nodded and retrieved her tablet, I assumed to take notes.

"Elizabeth, I was never a detective," I said. "I was an entry-level patrolman. My job was to hand out tickets and keep the bar crowds in line. Regardless of my impression of the Task Force members, they should be able to handle an investigation where you already know the players. If they can't, I'm sure the county's homicide squad is up to the task."

She looked up from her computer and then focused on a spot behind my head.

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Story tagged with:
Fiction / Mystery / Violent /