Frank Stewart was in the midst of what was unquestionably the worst day of his entire life. He had thought he'd had some bad ones before during the course of his thirty-one years on Earth. There was the time he'd found out his wife (now ex-wife) had been cheating on him with her dentist for more than a year. There was the time he'd had the kidney stone and had spent eighteen hours in screaming agony waiting for it to pass. There was the day—only four months ago now—he'd been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. None of those could hold a candle to this day, a day that had led to him sitting in this little room in the police station downtown; a little room with no windows, no carpeting, no art on the wall; a little room that smelled like stale alcohol and fresh fear; a little room where he could not open the door if he wanted to, could not leave until they told him he could.
He wasn't sure how long he had been in this room now. They had brought him in about an hour after the incident between his friend Manny and the man in the minivan. That had been about four o'clock in the afternoon but they had taken his watch from him—along with his wallet, keys, and cell phone—before putting him in here. Every twenty minutes or so a uniformed police officer would stick his head in and ask if he was doing okay. They had given him a bottle of water and a package of snack crackers but they would not listen to him when he tried to explain that he didn't belong in here, that he had had nothing to do with what had happened in that parking lot. They did not want to hear it.
"Wait until the detectives get here," they kept repeating. "You can tell them all about it then."
"When will that be?" he asked every time.
"Soon," he was always told.
This had happened at least six times now, maybe more. All he could do was sit and wait and wonder and worry. Was it dark now? Did his girlfriend even know where he was at? How much trouble was he in anyway? Would he be sleeping at home tonight or in a jail cell?
"Jesus God, Manny," he mumbled angrily at one point. "What the hell did you get me into this time?"
Just as he was about to start pounding on the door, demanding to be either let out or charged with something, the door opened again. This time it was not a uniformed officer who had opened it. It was a tall man wearing a white dress shirt, a red and blue striped tie and a pair of navy blue dress slacks. His head was completely bald and clean shaven. His face showed perhaps forty years of age but was otherwise expressionless. A badge, a pair of handcuffs and a semi-automatic pistol were plainly visible on his waist. He carried a large manila file folder in his left hand. He looked like what he was—a detective, a man used to interrogating suspected criminals.
Frank almost moaned in fear at the very sight of him. Why the hell didn't Manny just leave that guy alone? Why?
The man closed the door behind him and looked Frank up and down for a moment, his eyes giving no clue as to what was going on behind them. Finally, his expression softened a bit. His mouth formed something that could almost qualify as a smile. He took a step forward and set the file folder down on the small table. "Mr. Stewart?" he asked politely.
"Yes," Frank said slowly, nodding his head. "That's me."
"Frank Stewart?" the detective said, apparently for clarification.
"Yes, sir," Frank agreed. "Frank William Stewart."
The detective nodded. "Rick Jorgan," he said, introducing himself. "I'm the lead investigator on this little incident here." He held out his hand for a shake.
Surprised, caught off guard, Frank nonetheless held out his right hand out of instinct. They shook. The detective's grip was firm, controlling. It was a grip that seemed to convey the message that he could twist Frank's arm around and break his wrist if he wanted to.
"How are you doing?" Jorgan asked. "It looks like you got banged up a bit when the guys took you into custody."
"Uh ... yeah, a little," Frank replied. He was considerably worse for wear than he'd been prior to the 'little incident' in question. After the confrontation between Manny and the man in the minivan had gone so terribly, horribly wrong, the cops had shown up very quickly and they had not been in a playful mood. Frank had first found himself on the wrong end of a whole lot of pointed pistols, rifles, and shotguns. He had then been thrown rather roughly to the ground where one cop's boot had gone to the back of his neck, pinning his head down, another cop's boot had gone to his ass, pinning his body down, while two more cops had wrenched his arms behind his back to clench down a set of handcuffs. As a result, he now had a large abrasion on the right side of his face, holes in both knees of his baseball pants, parking lot gravel imbedded in both kneecaps, sore wrists, and every time he moved his right arm, something in his shoulder sent a sharp twinge of pain slamming into his neck.
"Sorry about that," Jorgan said, his words sounding sincere. "They're mostly younger cops in that part of town—guys and girls only a few years out of the academy. When they see something like ... well, you know what happened ... they tend to get a little amped up. You understand how it is?"
"Yeah ... I suppose," Frank said carefully.
"They didn't rough you up too bad? No one actually hit you or anything, did they?"
"No, no one hit me," he said, although they had seemed awfully upset with him, even considering what Manny had done ... or had tried to do anyway.
"Good, good," the detective said. He pulled out the chair on the other side of the table and sat down. "So, anyway, how about we talk about what happened out there? You ready to give me a statement?"
Frank hesitated. "Uh ... well ... should I maybe talk to a lawyer first?"
Jorgan looked at him, his eyes probing. "That would be your right, Mr. Stewart, if you think you need to talk to a lawyer. My understanding of the matter at hand, however, is that you were not actually involved in the altercation that took place between the gentleman in the minivan and your friend. Is that correct?"
"Right," Frank agreed, nodding rapidly. "I didn't have nothin' to do with it. Nothin' at all. In fact, I told Manny to leave the guy alone, that it wasn't worth it."
"Well if that's the case, then why would you need a lawyer? If you had nothing to do with it, you would be considered a witness, not a suspect."
"Yes ... but still..."
"Let me put this another way," the detective said. "Did you notice the sign on the door when the officers brought you into the main office out there?"
"The sign?" Frank asked. He had been too busy trying to come to grips with everything to have noticed any signs, too busy trying to process how he had gone from a nice, pleasant post-softball game beer buzz to being dragged into the police station in handcuffs.
"The sign," the detective said. "It read 'Homicide Division'. I am a homicide detective. Do you know what that means?"
Frank could feel the color draining from his face. "Homicide?" he squeaked. "You mean ... you mean... ?"
"That's right," the detective said. "He's dead."
"Dead? But ... but the paramedics took him to the hospital! I saw them do it! He was talking to them when they put him in the ambulance!"
"He's not talking anymore," the detective told him bluntly. "According to the paramedics, they lost his heartbeat on the way to the hospital. The doctors worked on him for half an hour or so but he was pronounced dead before they could even get him to surgery."
"My God," Frank said, shocked to the core. "I can't believe it. He's dead?"
"Dead," the detective repeated. "So I'm sure you can appreciate we're dealing with something a little more serious than a simple assault, right?"
"Jesus," Frank breathed. Sure, there had been a lot of blood on the ground and it had seemed like he was having a little trouble breathing and he had been screaming like a little girl who had seen a rat, but dead?
"This is a homicide investigation, Mr. Stewart, and you were standing less than fifteen feet away when everything went down. At this point, I have no information that leads me to believe that you were involved in the fracas that led to this homicide. That makes you—as I said—a witness. You can refuse to talk to me without a lawyer present if you want. That is your right under the constitution. If you do that, however, it's going to make me start wondering if my initial impression of your non-involvement was a correct impression. I might start to wonder if maybe you had a little more to do with this than meets the eye."
"I didn't have nothin' to do with it," Frank reiterated. "I swear!"
"If that's the truth then you have nothing to worry about," the detective said. "You tell me what happened today and you'll be home in a few hours. If you want to consult with a lawyer, however ... well, it's Friday evening now, coming up on six o'clock. That means we won't be able to get you that lawyer until Monday morning. That means we might have to hold you in a jail cell charged with accessory to murder until then."
"Accessory to murder?" Frank said, his eyes wide. "How can you charge me as an accessory to what happened? It was Manny that ... that..."
.... There is more of this story ...