Lifeline
Chapter 22

The next six months moved forward so fast I could barely keep up. February saw Elizabeth at the state capital for most of the month. She spent a week telling her story to a legislative subcommittee and another week being interviewed by the State Police Anti-Corruption Squad, the group the attorney general had appointed to investigate the Combined Drug Task Force members and the groups that might have corrupted them. Then she spent 10 days testifying about her actions as a member of the Task Force to the state bar association examiners.

That left me to deal with two children at home – and a pissed off boss at work. I held up as best as I could, which admittedly wasn't very well. I was short-tempered and sleep deprived. Pam still hadn't been transported to the state to face charges because of a series of heavy snowstorms across the north. Twice the team assigned to transport prisoners had postponed the trip and Lucy was growing increasingly irritated. The firm that had hired her had agreed to delay her job until she had things cleared up in town but as the case dragged on they were putting pressure on her to cut ties. Only her misguided sense of loyalty to me prevented her from bailing on Pam and the deal she had arranged with Judge Valasik and the special prosecutor.

The prosecutor was in a bind. Pam's 180-day clock had begun the day she was arrested. The courts made no distinction about where she was housed. She was being held without bond and she was assured of a trial in no less than 180 days. At the end of February, 87 of those days had ticked away and she was still 900 miles away – with no arrival date in sight. Lucy was threatening to take the case to trial – a sure winner either way. The prosecutor would have to put together a murder case (with little evidence) in a month and even if he won, no appellate court would let the verdict stand since Pam's attorney had no access to her for planning purposes for more than half of the time.

It was the second week of March before the attorney general opened her purse strings and agreed to fly Pam down. Her testimony was crucial to securing a conviction against Wallace Mann ... and Mann's testimony was crucial to securing convictions against other members of the Task Force.

Pam touched down in the city on Ides of March and was delivered to the courthouse immediately. I pulled the elder Lauren out of school so she could see her mother. There would be no visitation but she could at least say hello and Pam would see that her daughter was still standing by her.

It had taken a lengthy explanation for Lauren to understand her mother's actions weren't predicated entirely upon anger. Pam had also killed Biff to protect Lauren. One of the most painful discussions of my life came when I sat Lauren down and explained to her about the deal her father had tried to make with Dez Huntley. I wasn't positive Pam knew of the arrangement when she killed her former husband but I made certain she knew of it now. It would go a long way toward mitigation if the case ever went to trial.

The special prosecutor still held general homicide charges over Pam's head. In our state, homicide came in three varieties: murder (taking a life with malicious intent or premeditation); manslaughter (taking a life without malicious intent or premeditation) and negligent (take a life by accident). Each charge had three levels, first-degree; second-degree and third-degree. Too much time had elapsed for the prosecutor to consider the death penalty (not that Pam's case fit the criteria) but he had until a month before the trial to decide the specific charge and level.

The special prosecutor wasn't being malicious. He was leveraging Mann's attorney. Wallace would face conspiracy and accessory before and after the fact charges on top of those he faced in connection with the Huntley cover up. The more serious the charge against Pam, the more serious the conspiracy charge against Mann. Pam was barely in the air when Mann agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit third-degree murder; possession of an illegal firearm and accessory charges in the death of Leonidas Wells. The prosecution agreed to recommend a sentence of 12 years in exchange for the plea and Mann's cooperation in corruption investigation.

The day after Mann was sentenced to 18 years in prison (because the judge was under no obligation to accept the prosecutor's recommendation), the feds swooped in and announced he had been indicted on 31 counts of official oppression and civil rights violations for actions he committed as a member of the Task Force.

Mann's attorney wailed when Pam finally hit town – and pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter. She was sentenced to serve seven-to-10 years in a medium-security correctional facility. Once she completed her time at an induction center, she would be housed 45 minutes away from her daughter.

The Anti-Corruption Squad's participation in the investigation was overkill. The attorney general could have hired a Boy Scout Troop. As soon as the doctors removed the wires from Paul Scarborough's jaw he sang like a bird. Well, that's not exactly true. The first thing he did was announce that he planned to sue me for the beating I had handed out. The prosecutor laughed aloud and told him to have at it. I was a civil servant and didn't have shit – oh, and the man had just tried to murder my wife. There wasn't a jury in the land that would award him a penny. That's also when he told Scarborough he faced a date with a needle unless he came up with a reason for the state to keep him alive.

The drug violence spiked the week after Dez Huntley's death and then faded almost completely. The group of shadowy figures that operated behind the scenes appeared to pull back until they saw how things would play out. The month after Elizabeth's resignation was announced, the violence shot back up as outside groups saw an opportunity to make inroads while a new drug prosecutor learned the ropes. Those groups ran back to their own cities when Alberto Castille stepped down as senior judge and accepted a temporary position as prosecutor – the county's third in less than five months.

Scarborough agreed to provide information to the anti-corruption squad but he wanted a lot in return. He wanted to be in federal custody until he had finished testifying; he wanted the death penalty enhancement dropped; and he wanted a sentencing recommendation that included parole. Oh, and he wanted to meet privately with Elizabeth.

I heard about it secondhand from the prosecutor, who informed me of the request and his reaction.

"I told him that she was a witness against him and the next time he saw her would be when she gave an impact statement before the jury deliberated about giving him the needle or life without parole," the man said with a laugh. "Just for shits and giggles, I told him that she had agreed – with the caveat that you got 20 minutes alone with him immediately afterward. He withdrew that portion of his request."

Elizabeth had told me the man the state brought forward to handle the prosecution was a glory hound and I took her word for it before I met the guy. Once I'd talked to him, I found I liked him. He might be out for publicity but, in my eyes at least, he earned every bit of positive press he got. He sure as hell made short work of a group that had run circles around the honest cops and prosecutors of the county for almost five years.

It was April Fool's Day when four members of his investigative team burst into the CYS offices and pulled my boss out in handcuffs. I'm sad to say that I missed the excitement. I was on a personal errand.

After talking to Elizabeth and Carmen Alvarez, the prosecutor agreed to drop the death-penalty enhancement for Scarborough in exchange for his testimony. The disgraced detective pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 35 years.

Personally, I could think of no reason why a 75-year-old man would want parole. But what the hell do I do know? Maybe he figured that I would have shuffled off the mortal coil by then and Elizabeth would be waiting for him.

There was only one thing I was certain of: Paul Scarborough would not live long enough to reach that far-off possibility.

When I was told of his deal, I immediately took an afternoon to go through my files from my days as a criminal defense attorney. I figured that given the number of lowlifes I had defended surely I had at least one former client in all three of the state's maximum-security prisons. It turned out I was wrong. Sure, I had some former clients who had found their way to the wrong side of the law again but none had done anything to deserve housing with the worst of the worst. I will admit that I was surprised when my search failed.

Undaunted, I accessed the database at Children and Youth Service. We had a host of children whose only contact with their father was through Plexiglas. One of the rules I put in place required all prison visits to be supervised by a CYS agent until a senior administrator signed off on a recommendation for visits supervised only by the prison staff. As one of four senior administrators on the staff, I had the power to make a few convicts' dreams come true. OK, sure, I couldn't commute their sentences but I could make it a hell of a lot easier to see their kids.

I pared down the list to two men doing life without parole at each maximum-security prison. Each had served at least eight years and none had any serious misconduct demerits in the past 18 months. I wasn't about to throw a child to the lion's in my quest for vengeance (although the thought did cross my mind). By the time Scarborough's deal broke in the media, I had people inside who would make sure the other cons knew exactly who Scarborough was and how he helped to put them away. As a former police officer the man would be in Restricted Housing but that didn't matter much. Those cons would take care of business just as easily as those in general population would.

I was not so crass as to solicit Scarborough's murder. I simply asked the inmates I contacted to get the word out that a former member of the Drug Task Force was headed their way. OK, fine, I suppose that is morally the same as soliciting a murder – but I can assure you that there is a vast gulf legally.

My only hope was that the con told him that "some CYS lawyer" made it happen just before he slipped the shiv between Scarborough's ribs.


By the time school let out for the summer, my life had resumed a sort of normalcy. It wasn't the same normalcy that it held prior to Pam's frantic phone call but it had leveled out considerably since the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

After some initial problems, the elder Lauren seemed to adapt to a life with rules and expectations. Her grades improved from a C average to a B+ average over the course of the semester and her behavior became that of someone I would be happy to have my daughter emulate someday.

The backtalk and dramatic sighs that permeated the first couple of months disappeared. I hate to say this because I know no one would believe it of a teenager but she actually was pleasant to be around most of the time. She became less like the hooker-wannabe that her father had brought down the summer before and more like the Pumpkin I remembered so fondly.

The younger Lauren was growing by the day and she was starting to develop a personality of her own. It was a personality I found that I loved even more than her baby demeanor. She was loving and funny, often playing jokes on the rest of us in the house. She became our resident comedienne, the purveyor of some of the worst "Knock, Knock" jokes known to man. She was adorable even when she pouted, with a tendency to cross her arms and stick her lower lip out as far as it could go. It was all I could do to keep from laughing at her (and all I could do to keep from giving in to her).

The best part was the relationship she developed with her new older sister. I remembered my torturous childhood all too vividly. I was the youngest and the only boy, and thus special in both my parents' eyes. My sisters were resentful and, often, downright hateful. During my week packing up Pam's belongings, I was within 35 miles of my hometown – and the town where my sisters still lived – and I never once considered driving across (or even picking up the phone).

But Lauren and Lauren were buddies. The older girl seemed to always be willing to make time and the younger one seemed to understand there were times she wore out her welcome. Our family movie nights would always find the two girls side by side on the couch, a bowl of popcorn to share. Invariably, by the time the movie ended, the younger girl's head would replace the popcorn on the older girl's lap and they both would be snoozing away. I probably have 30 pictures of the two of them that way on my computer.

The only part of my life that wasn't running smoothly was my relationship with Elizabeth. I don't know if the revelations had shaken my faith in her or if I just didn't believe she could be so blind to what was going on around her. I found myself parsing through her words looking for hidden meanings each time we would try to have a serious discussion.

It came to a head a few days before Lauren Senior's 15th birthday. It started with a disagreement over a trivial detail regarding the party we'd planned and escalated to the point we went outside to keep the girls from overhearing things they probably shouldn't.

"Elizabeth, there is just no way we can fit 35 people in the house!" I said.

"I told you we should rent out a banquet room at the hotel," she rejoined.

"And how in the hell do you propose we pay for that?" I inquired. "You haven't worked in six months."

"You turned down the job of running CYS," she shot back.

"Oh, so I'm supposed to jump into a bureaucratic nightmare so you can sit on your ass all day and eat bon-bons?" I asked.

"Screw you, Ben," Elizabeth replied.

"Screw you, Elizabeth," I replied. Yeah, witty comeback, I know. It's something I need to work on.

Elizabeth took a deep breath and started to cry. In all honesty, I believe she had cried more in the past six months than in the previous 30 years.

"Are you ever going to call me Ellie again?" she asked out of the blue.

"What?" I asked, still peeved. "I call you Ellie all the time!"

"No, you don't," she answered. She still had tears in her eyes but they were looking at the ground. "It's always Elizabeth now. It has been since the Task Force stuff came out."

I considered her words and I realized that she was right.

"I don't know," I answered. "Things are different now."

"I don't want them to be different," she answered.

"I don't either," I replied, frowning.

"Tell me what it is and we'll fix it," she offered.

"That's just it, I don't know what it is," I admitted. "I think it's all of it. The Task Force, Scarborough, breaking into my office. You almost being killed, watching a man die. I had never doubted you before. Once I started to doubt you, I can't seem to stop. That makes me doubt myself. It makes me doubt us. I've wondered if you would have gone through with the plan to pass defense strategy to Jane if you hadn't thought she would tell me. I wonder how far you would have let Scarborough go before you stopped him. The more I find out about what went on with the Task Force, the more I wonder how it was it happened under your nose."

"No; not as far as you obviously think; and I was excluded on purpose," Elizabeth stated. I looked at her in confusion.

"That's the answers to your doubts in the order you posed them," she clarified. "I stepped away from your office because I feared exactly what happened. I went in there because I was nosy and I was scared. I did not go in there with the plan to provide secrets to Jane Cummings. I went in because I had so much invested in putting Huntley behind bars. I knew if anyone could find a way to get a guilty man free, it would probably be you. I guess I just wondered if you would take it to an acquittal or be content to spare him the needle. I honestly thought he did it. I heard all the reasons you thought he was innocent but I was too invested in the outcome to accept them. I needed him to be convicted because I thought that would validate my life's work.

"As far as Paul went, I thought it was harmless. I've admitted that I was flattered by his attention. I think that was much the same reason as I felt threatened by Michelle when I first took over as prosecutor. For the last five years, we were almost one person. Oh, I'm not saying we did everything together but we always did a few things together each day. We would have breakfast each morning; we would play with Lauren on the floor as soon as we got home; we would talk about our days over supper. Suddenly, that was gone. At first, it was my over-involvement at the office. I was too busy to even come to bed. You helped me pull my head out of my ass but as soon as I was breathing fresh air again, it was you all the time.

"For almost two months, I would see your shadow as you slipped out of the bedroom before the sun came up. Then I might not see you again for two days. We never talked; we never ate together; we never ... uh, you know. It was almost like we were roommates instead of lovers. I felt a little like I had become a forgotten part of your life. I was even a little jealous of the time you'd spend with Lauren at night. So when Paul came off undercover work and started showing interest, it made me feel good. He noticed that I cut my hair three days before you did. He would complement the way I dressed; the way I did my job; hell, the way I drove a car. I had gotten so used to hearing those things from you that I'd come to need the affirmation.

"To make matters worse, when we did have a few minutes together, I would have to choose between just enjoying it or telling you how I was feeling and risking a major fight. I knew it was stupid to feel that way. I didn't want to feel that way – and, still, I felt that way."

"I didn't mean to neglect you," I said.

"I know that, too!" Elizabeth said, shaking her head.

I thought back on those weeks and realized I'd spend more time with Judge Valasik than I had my wife. A stray thought caused me to chuckle.

"At least you didn't think I was having an affair with The Pickle," I said.

"No," Elizabeth agreed. "But I was worried about 'The Starbanger.'"

"You do realize that is just another fallacy, right?" I asked.

"I do now," she said. "It's the same thing with the shitstorm. I was completely deceived by the Task Force. I trusted them completely. I mean, hell, they made me one of the top prosecutors in the state. Ben, you were a cop. You know how easy it would be to do that to a prosecutor."

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Story tagged with:
Fiction / Mystery / Violent /