by Gail Farrelly
This is a never before published mystery short story!
“Have a seat,” District Attorney Doug Fleming directed the quartet of assistant district attorneys filing into his office. He pointed to the conference table and chairs across from the desk where he was sitting and said, “I’m just checking out a few things on the calendar. We’ll begin the meeting when Pete comes. He went downstairs to get us some donuts.”
“Sounds good, boss,” one of the guys said. “Food for thought. Sure am glad you hired Pete.” Fleming nodded. You can say that again, he was thinking as the group of lawyers chatting across from him helped themselves to coffee from the machine in the corner. Pete Cassidy, the forty-something ‘donut guy,’ wasn’t a lawyer; in fact, he hadn’t gone to college. But he was the best administrative assistant he’d ever had. A hard worker and super organized. He had served in combat in the Gulf War and then had been in a variety of administrative positions in the army before leaving the service last year.
The DA’s office had never been as organized as it was today, 10 months after Pete had arrived. He kept the files in perfect order, and he kept Doug in perfect order. No longer did he have to be concerned about getting his administrative act together before a meeting. Pete always collected all the stuff his boss would need for the meeting. Nice! He did everything he was asked to do and did it well. He didn’t even mind picking up the donuts. What more could you want in an assistant?
Doug looked up when he noticed that the ADAs, having gotten their coffee, had now moved on to discussing the subject of the formal meeting that was to come: the case against 36-year-old Tony Moffat, accused of shooting his girlfriend, 28-year-old Allison Drake, to death with a Derringer in her downtown luxury apartment two months ago.
Of the four ADAs, there was one he could barely drag his eyes from. Young, blond, gorgeous Carla Razzetto. About the same age as murder victim Allison Drake, and just as beautiful. He figured it would be nice to look only at Carla, but he didn’t want to be too conspicuous. Her soft blond hair, her elegant good looks, her large breasts straining against the confines of her white silk blouse made looking away difficult. At 29 years old she was at the peak of her beauty and confidence, unlike his wife who peaked about 20 years ago. And even her peak was nothing to rave about.
He smiled to himself, thinking of the instructions the nuns always gave before a test: “Keep your eyes to yourself.” He reluctantly pulled his eyes away from her and back to his calendar. Her colleagues had no particular interest for him. Three fairly newly-minted attorneys. Two young guys. And then a “girl” who had postponed going to law school for about 25 years. He knew it wasn’t politically correct to label her a “girl.” But he figured that he could think of her any way he wanted to, right? Thought police are the stuff of science fiction, at least at this point. She probably wouldn’t mind being called a girl anyway. He found that, with her and her contemporaries, the greater the distance they were from actual “girlhood,” the less they seemed to mind being called girls.
Just last night he was at a restaurant; and at the next table, there was a group of fifty-something women. The waiter came and said, “Are you girls ready to order?” When the waiter left, there were giggles all around, and one woman said, “Let’s give that guy a good tip.” More giggles. He didn’t get it. If he had the audacity to call a group like that “girls,” he knew he would have received a few swift kicks to the crotch. Either that or a sexual harassment suit. Or both.
He was jarred from his musings when he heard the old girl say that she thought the motive was jealousy in the Allison Drake case. “He probably discovered that she had another lover. Remember her best friend said she was seeing someone else, in addition to Moffat, in the months before she died. A respectable boyfriend, was what she said, but she didn’t know his name.”
One of the guys snickered. “I guess Tony Moffat’s mom didn’t teach him to share,” he said, continuing, “but you have to own something before you share it. And I have the feeling he didn’t own her.”
Carla Razzetto agreed. “No, he just thought he did. That was the problem.”
The guy who recently spoke answered, “Well, he has a problem all right. Explaining that Derringer. The one that showed up in his garage with his prints and her blood spatter. And with his record, well…”
The other guy added his two cents’ worth: “So that takes care of motive and means. And the opportunity thing? With no alibi, well, that clinches it, right? Moffat definitely dug his own grave. I guess he was, like, what that song says, Crazy in Love. Poor sap.”
His words reminded the DA of meeting his former girlfriend a year ago. Love at first sight. She had testified as a witness at a robbery trial out of his office. When the trial was over, there was still so much to keep them together. Her beauty, energy, sexiness, and sense of fun kept him coming back. And staying there. Crazy in Love. Yep, that was him.
Oh his wife was nice enough, but she was always busy, with her job and all. And anyway, he was thinking, she’s gone to fat and has started to look just plain old. Like himself. But he felt that he was at the top of his game and had no reason to settle. It was bad enough to be flabby and getting old. Who wants a partner in the same condition? No, it had been time to move on and order a little side dish for himself. The main course just didn’t do it for him anymore.
“Reinforcements are here,” said the cheerful voice of Pete Cassidy, as he strolled into the room. He was holding a notebook and two boxes of donuts. Pete, Doug was thinking, as he got up from his desk and walked over to the conference table, was still quite youthful looking. You’d never know he was in his forties. Probably the crew cut and trim figure. Doug watched Pete sitting down, whipping a pen out of his pocket, and opening his notebook to a fresh page. Always prepared.
There was silence for a few minutes, as the group attacked the donuts. Then one of the guy attorneys said, “I see only one fly in the ointment. That tiny little sliver of skin forensics found on the gun. It didn’t belong to either the victim or the perp. I mean, they don’t know who it belongs to. That could be a problem. Hopefully not, but it’s a possibility.”
Carla snorted and said, “What? You sound like Moffat’s attorney. Listen, it would be great to have a match. Maybe by the time this goes to trial, the investigators will have discovered who the skin belongs to. But really, it could have come from anyone. Maybe someone working for Moffat or visiting him. Could even be from someone working at a place where the gun was serviced. Whatever.”
The older female lawyer spoke up. “Well, I guess no prosecution case is perfect, but this one seems pretty close, at least to me.” other ADAs nodded their agreement.
“You’re right,” Doug said. “We just have to be sure to deal with what we know, not with what we don’t. Let’s move on to strategy.”
And so they did and stayed there for the next few hours.
Later that day, Pete Cassidy’s Office…
Pete had just left the meeting and returned to his cubbyhole, a small office next to that of his DA boss. He was putting some notes from the meeting onto his computer but finding it hard to concentrate. He had the strange feeling that Tony Moffat was being railroaded. Was there any real evidence of this though? Or did he just feel that way because Moffat was an army veteran, too, like himself. But a vet who seemingly hadn’t yet adjusted to being back in civilian society. Maybe he didn’t want Tony to be guilty, so that was affecting his analysis and judgment. Or maybe it was just that he was watching way too many crime shows on TV.
No, he thought it was more than that. Moffat had motive, of course. He had abused a woman before, when he was drunk. And he had means. The gun was definitely his. But then there was that minute shaving of skin on the gun that remained unidentified. Not conclusive proof that he didn’t do it, but it did leave the door open for that possibility. Apparently there was enough to get a DNA profile, if only the right ‘match’ could be found. But would law enforcement officials be looking diligently for that match when they believed that they already had their man?
And then there was something else he couldn’t stop thinking about, even though he didn’t want to. His boss had mentioned during the meeting that, on the night of the murder, he was at a library doing some research, just a few blocks from the crime scene. Not true. That particular library was closed that night, due to a short in the electrical system. Pete happened to know that because he had met his cousin Joe (it was his birthday) for pizza that night. Joe, the ‘birthday boy,’ worked at that library and had spoken about its closing down at 1 p.m., giving him an unexpected and welcome afternoon off. “Happy birthday to me,” Joe had kidded.
Could it be that Fleming had lied because he was involved in some way with the murder of Allison Drake and wanted to have a reason for being in that neighborhood, just in case he was spotted by someone there? His boss had known Drake, since she was a witness in a case that had been handled by the office. But that certainly wasn’t proof that Fleming had been involved with her romantically or that he had killed her.
Fleming did have an eye for the ladies though. That much he knew for sure. There were glances at females that were–well, just a little bit longer than they needed to be.
And for a while there, he was pretty sure that his boss had a girlfriend. Fleming’s wife, a high-powered executive in a pharmaceutical firm, traveled a lot; they didn’t seem close. There were long lunches that Fleming took about once a week. He never said where he went. But then, why should he? He always looked especially well groomed on those days though. And, after one of the lunches, when he finally got back to the office, he had what looked like lipstick on his collar. Pete was thinking of the old tune, sung by Connie Francis; he hummed that line, “Lipstick on your collar told a tale on you,” in his head. Now that he thought about it, the long lunches had ended around the time of Drake’s murder. Hmm.
During that same time period, something strange happened. Pete had seen Fleming with tears in his eyes. He had mistakenly figured his boss had left for the day and had gone into his office without knocking to get something from the files. Fleming was sitting at his desk, and he had definitely been crying. Pete was sure of it. His boss claimed he had an allergy. No way! The allergy had never shown itself before or after that one time.
But none of this was proof of involvement in the death of Allison Drake, Pete told himself. His boss had been good to him. He didn’t want to think of him as a suspect in a murder investigation. But still–he wished he had the know-how and resources to do some investigating on his own. Without rocking the boat, that is.
He didn’t want this, hadn’t asked for it. He was just an administrative assistant who got a decent salary, but not enough to deal with this kind of issue, this kind of pressure. He thought of that old, now defunct, military directive: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Although it was meant to apply to the issue of gays in the military, it seemed to apply here as well. Should he just keep his mouth shut? His future was at stake, and he didn’t want to risk it. But then he thought of Tony Moffat, accused of killing Allison Drake. What kind of a future did he have? And maybe he was an innocent man.
He remembered seeing on TV the scruffy-looking Tony Moffat being taken into custody. His eyes looked haunted. It was like they were pleading with Pete to remove the word “Don’t” from the outdated military dictum.
“Ask, tell” then became the command.
District Attorney Doug Fleming’s office…
As Pete was speculating on the possible guilt of his boss, the subject of his speculation, DA Doug Fleming, was sitting behind his desk in his office, thinking over the just-finished meeting. He clasped his hands in front of him on the desk and tightly squeezed and unsqueezed them–just to have something to do, to try to relieve the tension. He talked himself into remaining calm.
Should he be relieved or panicked? Maybe a little of both.
The strong voice of Tammy Wynette resounded in his head as he thought of the confident looks on the faces around the conference table. Those attorneys will stand by their man and never seriously consider the possibility that they may have the wrong one. In a way, they’re like those horses that pull the carriages in Central Park in New York City. The ones with blinders on. All they can see is what’s straight ahead. Not what’s to the left or to the right.
Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty” anyway? Oh, the phrase is thrown around a lot. But in some ways, it’s become an anachronism in the Internet age when people blog, tweet, and text about the accused to their heart’s content. Freedom of the press run amok.
Yet he was thinking that there are some surprises in criminal cases. He thought about that LAPD retired female detective who had just recently been convicted of a 1986 crime. She had murdered the wife of her ex-lover. Many were surprised, but he wasn’t. Law enforcement people (police, prosecutors, judges, etc.) are the last to be suspected. Why? He knew from personal experience that they have the same temptations as the next guy. The only difference is, it’s easier for them to elude capture. He and his colleagues know all the ins and outs of the system; and this means that, as far as jail is concerned, most of the time they’ll remain out instead of in. Even if they deserve the opposite.
Doug asked himself whether he regretted the day last year when he had first met his former girlfriend, Allison Drake. Not really. But he guessed that she did. Especially when she saw him pull the Derringer out of his pocket and shoot her in the head.
He was thinking back to the day when he found out that she had another boyfriend while she was seeing him. He had felt hurt and betrayed. When he found out the boyfriend was scumbag Tony Moffat, he was enraged and determined they’d both have to pay–big time. He gave himself an ‘A’ for patience, as he watched and waited, bided his time, and made his plans. Moffat was the perfect patsy; a record of some petty crimes and a conviction for the domestic abuse of a former girlfriend qualified him for that. He thought back to keeping track of Moffat’s schedule and “borrowing” his Derringer to put a hole in Allison’s head. He gave himself credit for making sure that his prints weren’t on it when he returned it to Moffat’s house a few hours later. He didn’t believe in taking things–for keeps, that is–that didn’t belong to him. It’s only justice, he figured, that Moffat would pay the price for taking what belonged to him. He should have known better than to take from a DA the love of his life. The murder of Allison Drake was a twofer. Taking care of his lover and her boyfriend, with one shot. Literally.
He flicked a spot of cinnamon from his cuff. Donuts were good, but they were messy. He thought of that tiny piece of skin forensics had found on the gun that killed Allison Drake. He had a feeling that it was his, although he couldn’t be sure. His one mistake. Bad news.
And there was another thing. At the meeting today, he noticed Pete looking at him in kind of a strange way. There was confusion in his eyes. He didn’t suspect anything, did he? Not to worry. His assistant took orders, he didn’t give them.
Overall, he didn’t think he had a lot to worry about. He was thinking of the advice of that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” The law enforcement dolts didn’t have a clue that he was involved. And since they wouldn’t know at all where they’re going, he was sure they’d never get there.
And, even if they happened to find his fingerprints in Allison’s apartment, it wouldn’t be a problem. Since she testified in a trial out of the DA’s office, he could easily explain that he was in her apartment because of work related to trial prep, right? No sweat.
He looked at the pile of work on his desk, unclasped his hands, and opened the top folder. There were lots of other cases to deal with. Time to move on.
Forget about the skin on the gun for now, he told himself. Worry about it some other time. As Scarlett O’Hara said, “…tomorrow is another day.”
Three months later…
Pete Cassidy sat at his desk sipping coffee and reading the local paper.
The coffee was just as bad in this job as it had been in the last one, though it was probably better than the coffee Doug Fleming was having this morning. He doubted that the county jail was known for gourmet coffee.
The front-page headline, “DA Fleming Indicted for Murder of Allison Drake,” screamed out at him. The article went on to mention that an unnamed source had led police and prosecutors to a major break in the case. “Unnamed source” sounded fine to him. He didn’t need a public accolade. It was enough to know he had helped to catch a murderer. And, in the process, had been able to help a “brother,” Tony Moffat, initially accused of the crime. Tony had been freed and was now able to get on with his life. Pete hoped he would head for a better life than the one he had been leading before his arrest. The last he heard, another veteran, a businessman who owned a few fast-food restaurants in the area, had offered Tony a job. Good news.
It was ironic. When they served in the military, soldiers took care of the country. When they left the service, though, the country didn’t always take care of them. Often they were left to take care of each other. He’d like to advise military men and women just leaving the service: when you need help, who ya gonna call? Another veteran, of course.
It had been a tumultuous few months. When he left the service he thought he’d be going on to a much calmer existence. Yeah, right.
He considered himself lucky, though. He hadn’t known what to expect when he had finally made up his mind and had gone to the head of the Police Department’s investigative unit with his suspicions. To his surprise and relief, he had been taken seriously. It must have been difficult for the detectives to investigate a district attorney, but they had done it. And that was in spite of the fact that they had been convinced that they already had their man, the hapless Tony Moffat.
Pete wasn’t privy to all the details. But he did know that, after his alert, the detectives had been able to discover that Doug Fleming and Allison Drake had been having an affair. Among other things, the couple had spent numerous weekends at an out-of-the-way bed and breakfast place upstate. And there were quite a few flower deliveries to Drake, paid for with a credit card that was traced back to Fleming, although under a different name. After much background work, the detectives collected enough evidence for a court order to get a sample of Fleming’s DNA. That’s when they hit pay dirt. It was a match to the DNA of the tiny piece of skin on Tony Moffat’s gun. The nail in Fleming’s coffin. How could he explain that away? Presented with that piece of evidence, Fleming had confessed to the murder, saying that he had just lost it when he found Allison was seeing Tony Moffat on the side. Of course this didn’t exactly jive with the fact that it was a pre-meditated crime that had been meticulously planned.
It surprised Pete that his former boss had confessed and was going for a plea deal. He thought that Fleming would have hired the best attorney in town (he was certainly in a position to know who that would be) and taken his chances at trial. But maybe he just felt it was a lost cause and couldn’t bear the scandal. Or maybe his wife talked him into it. Clearly she held the purse strings in the family. Perhaps she had made it clear that she wouldn’t be paying the legal bills. Anyway, it looked like the plea bargain was almost a done deal.
Coffee break over, Pete threw his paper coffee cup and newspaper in the trash and turned back to his computer. He was satisfied with his new position, administrative assistant to the head of the Police Department’s investigative unit, the one he had originally gone to with his suspicions about Fleming. It was an interesting job with advancement potential. He couldn’t ask for more.
He liked his new boss.
Pete just hoped she wasn’t a murderer.
Check out more of Gail’s short stories in our mystery section.