Word Count C-8 = 5,275 Montgomery

Chapter 8

Pierce sat quietly in a holding cell.  His eyes were closed.  Too much had happened; his mind and emotions were overloaded.  Somehow, he did not feel ashamed of his “religious outburst” in Luke’s hospital room.  Lord, you’re the only one that can help me now.  He reflected sadly on Luke.

A metal door slammed shut, followed by the sound of footsteps approaching down the hallway.  As Pierce looked up through the bars, his mouth almost dropped open when he observed who was walking ahead of two cops: Steven Young—handcuffed.  Pierce’s and Steven’s eyes met for a couple of moments.  It felt to Pierce as though he were viewing hate incarnate.  If looks could kill...!  Am I actually discerning a demon?  A shiver ran up his spine.

Shortly, the same officers returned, alone, from the opposite direction and entered Pierce’s cell.  They uncuffed him and escorted him to the “frontal lobotomy” room.  Darius Frey and his somewhat disheveled uncle, Mr. Frey, were seated at the long table.  A microphone sat directly in front of Darius, whose head was bowed forward.  Without looking up, Darius conveyed, through tears, “Coach, you could never know how sorry I am.  Never.”

Detective Turner introduced himself to Pierce, inviting him to have a seat at the end of the table near the door, opposite Darius.  “Before we hear from Darius, let me begin to explain what has happened.”  He took a seat in the middle of one side of the table, behind another microphone.  “After the police arrived at the school this afternoon, a student told an officer that, during lunchtime, she saw you in the classroom of Mrs. Andrea Young....”

Not true.  After my morning classes, I phoned the hospital.  Then I sat alone in the cafeteria the entire lunch hour, eating and reading Science News,” Pierce insisted.  He recalled how, as he had been entering his car, a girl was pointing him out to a policeman.  Just how many people are in on this conspiracy against me? he contemplated.  “I have many witnesses.”

The detective was calm.  “I don’t doubt you, Mr. Nevin.  Please let me continue.”  Pierce nodded.  “The student claimed to have seen you placing a curious-looking object—she said, ‘maybe a bomb’—in a desk drawer.”

Looking down, Pierce shook his head but remained silent.

“When two of our officers entered the room and searched the desk, they found a crudely made, but extremely powerful, PVC bomb.  It would’ve exploded big-time if mishandled.  Upon the bomb’s discovery, three squad cars immediately were deployed to follow you.  An officer and an explosives expert cautiously transported the device outside and, after carefully dusting it for fingerprints, detonated it on an isolated area of the school grounds.  I went with Lieutenant Müller to the Frey residence to talk with Darius here.”

Pierce glanced at a haggard Mr. Frey, whose gaze was fixed upon him.  Mr. Frey’s eyes immediately turned away.  Pierce felt sorry for him.

“We told Darius that you could be in a lot of trouble and that he should talk, since he didn’t say much last night.”  Detective Turner turned toward Darius.  “We also told him how a janitor informed us just this morning that, as he was smoking a cigarette outside the gym late Friday night, he saw someone bolting out of a front door—wearing uniform number ‘twelve.’”

Pierce pictured a dejected Darius, a silver “12” on his chest, walking off the court after having been replaced by “the Stilt.”  Inside of Pierce’s head echoed those crushing words, “spineless wimp,” yelled by an irate fan.  Pierce briefly pondered, What a firestorm that can be ignited by the spark of a careless tongue!  He had to catch himself from mumbling it out loud.

“We suggested to Darius that a judge might be more lenient on him if he disclosed what he knew.  Well, he divulged a lot.”  Detective Turner arose from his seat and walked over to the water cooler.  Drawing a cupful, he took the cup and sat it in front of Darius.  “Can you please tell Mr. Nevin what you told Lieutenant Müller and myself at your house, Darius?”

Darius would not look up; he stared at the microphone before him.  He picked up the cup and sipped some water, pausing momentarily with the cup in front of his mouth before he set it down.  “Uhmmm...”—he cleared his throat—“on Friday night, Raquel Lacey called me from the school about thirty minutes after the game ended.  She invited me to a party....”

Detective Turner reached over and pushed the microphone closer to Darius.

Darius cleared his throat again and repeated, a little louder, “Raquel invited me to a party after the game.  She said she needed a ride ’cause Jerry Wells, her boyfriend”—Darius momentarily looked up at Pierce for the first time—“was...‘off sulking somewhere.’  I told ’er I was still in my uniform an’ that I hadn’t even showered.  She told me, ‘So what?...don’t even take the time to change.’  She said she was in a big hurry, so I just split right away to go pick ’er up in front o’ the gym.”

Darius finished his water in a gulp, and Detective Turner got him some more.  Pierce knew what it was like to have a dry mouth due to nervousness.

“At the party,” Darius resumed, “Raquel found us a secluded room an’ closed the door.  She...she massaged my shoulders an’ told me that...well, that we would’ve won if you’d left me in the game, Coach.”  Again, Darius glanced up briefly at Pierce.  “She kept gettin’ me one beer after another; I musta had six or eight.  I wanted to forget all about that horrible game.  Now I’m sure we woulda lost a lot worse if you’d left me in.”

Pierce was touched at the humility and sincerity of this young man, who sobbed softly for a few seconds before regaining control.

“Raquel told me that she’d gone to see ya in your office after the game, Coach.  She said ya ‘laughed hysterically’ at ’er when she told ya it’d been a mistake to take me out an’ put Billy in.  She told me ya said I was...a ‘good-for-nothin’ slug who lives in a garbage dump’...an’ that ya shoulda kicked me off the team months ago.”

Pierce shook his head in disbelief.

Darius straightened up his head and, wiping his face with his sleeve, maintained eye contact with Pierce.  “I shoulda known ya wouldn’t o’ said those things, after all the times ya’ve helped me an’ my uncle.”  Mr. Frey’s careworn face remained directed down toward the tabletop.

“What else did Miss Lacey say to you, Darius?”  Detective Turner urged.

“Mmm...”—Darius kept looking at Pierce—“first she cried a little.  She said that, when she tried to stick up for me, ya got really mad an’...forced yourself on ’er.”

Pierce continued shaking his head, slowly, from side to side.

Darius paused, then continued.  “She said she felt like she could never look at herself in a mirror again ’cause she felt ‘dirty.’  She also said she wished there was some way to make ya ‘pay’ for stealin’ away my moment o’ glory an’ for scarrin’ ’er for life.  Then...she said she’d heard I had a gun.  I was thoroughly plastered, Coach, an’ I was furious.  I got up an’ I...I said I was gonna go...‘take care’ o’ you.”

The momentary mental image of a gun, pointed at him by Darius, caused Pierce involuntarily to tighten his lips into each other.  Darius wept uncontrollably as Mr. Frey placed his hand on the forearm of his nephew.  An officer walked over to a Kleenex dispenser and obtained two tissues, taking them to Darius and returning to his place next to the door.

“Then Raquel...well, she whimpered as she gave me a kiss,” Darius sneered.  “She promised me she’d be waitin’ for me when I got back to the party.  The only thing I remember about drivin’ home is that the things she said aboutcha...well, they were goin’ over an’ over in my head...almost like a ‘voice’ kept repeatin’ ’em.”

Pierce recalled the passage Geoff had read from the Bible:  “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

“Then, I got the gun...”—he glanced at Detective Turner—“the one I took from Tom Hastings’ car...an’ went straight to your place, Coach.”  Darius’ eyes refocused on Pierce.  “Your car wasn’t there, so I went back to the gym.  I saw your car in the lot.”  Darius took a deep breath.  “I cocked the hammer.” 

Pierce briefly shut his eyes.  If not for the grace of God, I wouldn’t be sitting here.  Then he opened them.  He did not look away from his student.

“Inside, I...I saw that your office door was wide open, so I went to the doorway an’ saw ya at your desk...asleep.”  Darius blew his nose and kept the tissue in front of his face for a short time before lowering it, as though he had wanted to block out of his consciousness what had happened after that.  “It was like...I dunno...like a ‘spirit o’ hate’ had total control over me.  I felt...possessed...like it was gonna shoot...not me.”

Through Pierce’s mind instantaneously flashed the deadly look in Steven Young’s eyes—both a little while prior, as Steven had passed his cell, and in his dream a few nights before, when Steven seemed to fire at him from another car on the freeway.  Pierce’s skin crawled; he shifted in his seat.

“I...or ‘it’...aimed the gun at your head....”  Darius dropped his head into his hands flat on the table and, in a muffled tone, sobbed, “I can’t believe I was gonna do it!  God, how could I ’ave even considered it!”

Detective Turner walked over in back of Darius, placing his hand on the juvenile’s shoulder.  “It’s OK, son...it’s OK.  Catch your breath now.”  The boy sat upright, and the detective returned to his seat.  “Then what, Darius?”

Darius took a deep breath and wiped his eyes with another tissue.  “I was about to...pull the trigger...when somebody behind me yelled, ‘Hey, man!...what’re you doing?’  As I turned around, the guy lunged at me an’ grabbed my arm.  We struggled, an’ then...he fell to the floor.  It was like...I woke up out of a trance or somethin’.  I saw ’im lyin’ there, an’ then saw the gun in my hand.  Then I recalled that I’d just heard...like...an explosion, an’ I immediately knew I’d shot ’im.”

Pierce suppressed a gasp before it was released.  His hands were sweating.  He felt a pain in his chest, as the image of Luke’s horizontal body on the floor briefly entered and exited his mind.  And, as quickly as the pain had come, it disappeared.  Then, in his mind’s eye, Pierce saw Luke lying motionless, tubes and all, in the hospital bed.  He wished Luke were alive.  He fought back the tears.

Darius resumed his story.  “As he lay there, barely conscious it seemed, he pulled somethin’—I think some paper—outa his shirt pocket.”

Detective Turner’s attention focused upon Pierce.  “Did you notice if Mr. Steen had anything in his hand?”

Pierce, caught off guard, scrambled for an explanation.  “Yeah, uh...it was...uh...just a piece of paper with the final score of the game written on it.  It was bloody, so I threw it out.  Sorry I forgot to tell you about it.”

Detective Turner asked the officer standing by the door if he knew whether or not a bloody piece of paper had been retrieved during the investigation.  The officer said that he knew nothing about it.  The detective looked again at Pierce.  “I wonder what happened to it.”

It was difficult for Pierce not to look away, but he maintained eye contact.  He suggested, “I don’t know.  Maybe, in my haste, I didn’t put it in the trash can but...maybe somewhere else instead.  I...just don’t remember.”

Alternating his fixation from one of Pierce’s eyes to the other, Detective Turner replied, “Hmm...it’s hard to imagine how a bloody piece of paper could just...‘disappear.’”  After a few more seconds of detecting no reaction from Pierce, he returned his attention to Darius.  “OK.  Go on, Darius.”

“So then...I panicked an’ ran to my truck.  I drove back to the party an’ got there just as Raquel was gettin’ into Coach Young’s car.”

Pierce flinched, and he readjusted himself in his chair.  A little light bulb of understanding in his head, dim at first, gradually grew brighter.  So that was them sitting in his car when I was being hauled away by the police!

“I stopped my truck in the street next to his car so they wouldn’t leave.  I got out an’ ran over to Raquel’s door an’ told ’er I had to talk to ’er.  She got out an’ calmed me down.  Then she told me to get into the front seat with the two of ’em, assurin’ me that Coach Young was an ‘ally’ an’ could be trusted.  So I got in an’ told ’em everythin’ that’d happened after I left the party.  When I finished, I couldn’t tell by the look on Raquel’s face whether she sympathized with me for shootin’ the wrong guy or else was mad at me for...for not shootin’ you, Coach.”  Darius shook his head back and forth a couple of times, then lowered his eyes.

“What did all of you talk about after that?” the patient detective inquired.

“Uh, lemme think...Coach Young told me to get back into my truck, go home, take a hot shower, an’ get a good night’s sleep.  He said one of ’em would contact me the next day.  As I got outa the car, he asked me if I had the gun in my truck.  When I said I did, he told me to get it an’ bring it to ’im.  He said he had an idea to...get me ‘off the hook.’  So I did.”

“What else did they say to you?”

“Nothin’.  That was it.  I went home, showered, an’ went to bed.”

“Then, didn’t you say that Raquel called you?” the detective asked.

“Yeah, next mornin’...’bout seven-thirty or eight.  Man, I had a hangover.  She...she told me she really cared about me.”  Again, Darius shook his head, as though he felt like a fool.  “She told me she was gonna wrap the gun in a brown paper bag with the butt stickin’ out.  She said that on Monday she’d slide it into your car, Coach, through one o’ the open windows, since ya usually keep ’em down a few inches.  Then she said she’d tell a cop that she thought she saw a firearm while walkin’ by your car an’ wondered if, possibly, it might be the weapon used Friday night.”

The door opened, and Lt. Müller peeked in.  “Excuse me, Detective Turner.  I have a message for Mr. Nevin.”  Her eyes met Pierce’s, and she smiled.  Without her cap, her thick, blonde hair flowed outward like a model’s in a photo shoot.  In a heartbeat of time, Pierce saw the two of them standing above Niagara Falls, beneath a full moon, embraced in a kiss.  He smiled back.  “Doctor Hutton at the hospital called and asked about you.  I took the call and said that you would be in a meeting for awhile but would be free to go soon.  He requested that you return to the hospital.  One of our officers will give you a ride there, or wherever else you might wish to go.”

“Thanks a lot, Van...Lieutenant Müller.”  He wanted to touch her hair.  “I would appreciate a ride back to the hospital, when I’m done here.”

“OK.  I’ll relay that message to an officer at the front desk.”  Each continued gazing at the other until the door closed.

The detective, having been making notes during the interruption, continued to write for a few seconds after Lt. Müller departed.  Then he put down his pen.  “All right, Darius.  What else did Miss Lacey tell you?”

“Uh...she reminded me that if the guy I’d shot—I think his name’s Mr. Steen—recovered, he might be able to identify me.  I began to feel really anxious, like a scared rabbit.  But then she told me that Coach Young had a solution, if I’d just go along with it.”  Darius paused, as though he were reluctant to relate what the so-called solution was.

This time, Pierce asked the question.  “Darius, what did she tell you was Coach Young’s...‘solution’?”

“Raquel said that...that Coach Young had a gun with a silencer an’ that I could use it on Mr. Steen.”  Darius looked back and forth between his coach and the detective.  “You’ve gotta understand...I didn’t want to kill ’im!  Sometimes things just get so...so complicated, ya know?”

“Keep going,” urged Detective Turner.

Darius composed himself.  “Well, I didn’t like the whole idea, but I couldn’t see any other way out.  I even got more confused when she told me she wanted me to be ’er date at the prom.  I couldn’t believe it...the best-lookin’ girl at school, an’ she said she wanted to go to the prom...with me!  O’ course, now I know it was just a lie, like everythin’ else she told me!”

The detective took a few more notes and then said, “Now, what about your next encounter with Mr. Young?”

“That was early Monday mornin’.  When I got to school, he was waitin’ for me in his car...in the student parkin’ lot.  He said he had to stay low, ’cause he’d called in sick.  He got out briefly to give me a note on pink paper from Raquel.”  Darius’ spirit seemed to drift away from the premises momentarily.  “It smelled great.”  Then, refocusing on the matter at hand, he continued, “I read it in my truck.  Then I refolded it an’ put it into my back pocket, I guess only partway.  He reminded me that, later, Raquel would put the gun in your car, Coach.  He also suggested that I leave right then with ’im.  He pointed out a patrol car nearby which, he said, had arrived a little earlier.  That really spooked me, so I got outa my truck.  I guess that’s when the note fell outa my back pocket.  Later, at his house, I couldn’t find it.”

“What did you do at his house?” the detective interrogated further.

“Would it be OK if I used the restroom first?” requested Darius.

“Yeah, sure.”  After Detective Turner motioned the officer to escort Darius to the restroom, he spent about a minute writing some notes.  Then he ripped a clean sheet of paper out of his notebook, wadded it up into a ball, and placed it into Pierce’s left hand.  He pointed to the garbage can by the door, approximately eight feet away, and asked Pierce if he could ‘sink a basket.’  Puzzled, Pierce said he could try.  Transferring the paper ball to his right hand, he propelled it directly into the center of the miniature basketball hoop atop the can.  “Great shot, Coach!  Now...do you happen to know which hand is Coach Young’s dominant hand?”

Pierce recalled having seen Steven stroking his chin and also throwing a football, both with his left hand.  “Yeah...I’m pretty sure it’s his left.”

As the detective wrote more in his notebook, Darius returned and took his seat.  “OK, Darius...what happened at Mr. Young’s house?”

“Well...he stressed to me that I had to get rid o’ Mr. Steen.  Otherwise, he might identify me.  He said he’d called the hospital Sunday after the big quake an’ found out that Mr. Steen was in pretty bad shape an’ barely hangin’ on.  His exact words were, ‘He’s suffering a lot, Dar.  You’d only be doing him a favor.’  Then he showed me a loaded Colt forty-five revolver, with a silencer attachment, an’ told me it was...‘the only way.’”

Pierce marveled at the ruthlessness of Steven Young.

“He took me to Denny’s an’ bought me breakfast.  As we ate, he assured me that Raquel had a crush on me an’ ‘probably would do anything’ for me.  What a pack o’ lies!”  Darius slammed his fist onto the tabletop, and his uncle again rested his hand on Darius’ arm.  “It was all just a setup!  They were just...usin’ me...an’ I’m so stupid for lettin’ ’em!”  Darius unclenched his fist.

Detective Turner allowed Darius a few seconds to recompose himself.  “Where did the two of you go after breakfast, Darius?”

“He took me back to school.  I got in my truck an’ split to the beach.  I sat there all day, decidin’ the pros and cons o’ what he’d asked me to do.  After sunset, I...went to the hospital with the gun...an’....”  Darius put his face down onto his hands and began to sob again.  “I didn’t wanna end up in prison like my parents did!  An’ now...after all this...I prob’ly will!

Detective Turner completed the story.  “After Darius was apprehended in Mr. Steen’s hospital room last night, the gun was fingerprinted.  Darius’ right thumbprint clearly showed up on the left side of the gun handle.  The left thumbprint of Steven Young, who was just brought in, thanks to the testimony of Darius, has matched some partly smeared prints on the right side of the gun handle.  Some of Mr. Young’s left fingerprints also matched the remnant of the prints which he apparently was not successful in wiping off of the pipe bomb.”  The detective wrote another sentence in his notebook.  “So...that’s about it, Mr. Nevin.  Do you have any questions about anything you’ve heard here this afternoon?”

“Yeah...I was wondering if the student who said she saw me put something in Mrs. Young’s desk is in on the conspiracy against me.”

“No.”  Detective Turner shook his head.  “After that powerful bomb was exploded on school grounds, the girl who had pointed you out to an officer asked the officer why the man she saw planting the bomb had not yet been arrested.  When she was told that the police were on your trail, she pointed to a car down the block, off of school grounds, insisting that, a short time before, she had seen you—along with a girl she thought was Raquel Lacey—entering that car.  Two officers approached the car, which turned out to be Mr. Young’s, and detained Mr. Young and Miss Lacey inside.  Then, a little while later, after those officers were informed of Darius’ testimony, they arrested both of ’em.”

“But why would that girl accuse me of planting the bomb?” Pierce pressed, his curiosity still not yet satisfied.

“Well, later, the girl related that, during the noon hour, she had gone to Mrs. Young’s classroom—room 138—to ask a question.  The door was locked, so the girl peered in through the hazy windowpane.”  The detective pointed to the two-way mirror with one hand and made a motion to the officer with the other.  The officer left the room.  “She ultimately admitted that she mistook Mr. Young for you, due both to your similar features and to the fact that each of you was wearing a blue shirt and light-colored pants.  She said she hopes to be able to apologize to you the next time she sees you this week.  She was very upset for having made such an error.”

For the first time, Pierce realized that his desk, in room 238, was directly above Andrea Young’s desk, in room 138.  If that bomb was as powerful as the detective has led me to believe it was—Pierce shuddered—it probably would have blown me up, too!

As Detective Turner logged more information, Darius addressed Pierce humbly.  “Coach...I know you could never forgive me for what I’ve done, so I won’t ask ya to.  I don’t deserve it...but please don’t hate me.”

“I do forgive you, Dar.  And, somehow, I’m certain Luke Steen does too.”  Pierce visualized Luke alive in heaven.  His eyes watered a bit.

Darius mustered a half-smile, as though the weight of the world suddenly had been lifted off of his shoulders.  Moments later, the door opened, and the officer brought in Raquel Lacey and her parents.  Sitting down across from the detective, Raquel glared spitefully first at Darius and then at Pierce.

Although Mrs. Lacey had heard Darius Frey’s testimony from the adjacent room, she reacted indignantly.  “I just can’t believe my beautiful daughter has been arrested!  Of all the twisted things!”  She placed her hands on both sides of Raquel’s head and leaned over to kiss her luxuriant hair.

Mr. Lacey added, “Our sweet daughter clearly has been framed!”  He looked sadly at Raquel, who obviously was his pride and joy.  “What kind of people would do such a thing to a nice, innocent girl as this?”

The officer who had escorted them in directed Mr. and Mrs. Lacey to sit in chairs on either side of Raquel.  As they did, Raquel began to “cry”—or so it seemed—exclaiming, “I didn’t do anything!

Detective Turner reminded her, “Miss Lacey, everything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law.  It will be to your advantage to tell all the truth you know.”

“But, I’m telling you...I didn’t do anything wrong!” the girl wailed, burying her face in her hands.

Raquel’s parents put their arms around her.  Mrs. Lacey declared hysterically, “What’s wrong with all of you?  Can’t anyone here see that this girl is an unfortunate victim of somebody’s sick conspiracy?  There’s absolutely no evidence at all against our daughter here!”  Turning and pointing at Darius, she attacked, “How can you believe this...this murderer here?  He is plainly a liar, and”—she turned toward Pierce—“so is any other pervert who speaks out against our baby!”

“On the contrary,” Detective Turner countered, “there is ample evidence to involve Miss Lacey in the conspiracy against Mr. Nevin.  Two cameras at the Bank of America Versateller machines, across the street from the faculty parking lot, photographed Raquel at twelve-fifty-two yesterday afternoon slipping something through the partially open window of Mr. Nevin’s car.  It presumably was the brown paper bag containing the gun used in the shooting.  Furthermore...the scent of her perfume is still on the bag.”

These words were not convincing to a skeptical Mr. Lacey.  “I know for a fact that videotapes these days can be edited to show whatever anybody wants them to show!  And any girl could use the same perfume!  I guess the cops are in on this terrible conspiracy, not against this...this child molester here”—he pointed accusingly at Pierce—“but against my innocent girl!”

Detective Turner remained calm and cool.  “Mr. Frey...Mr. and Mrs. Lacey...you all may go now; but you must keep Darius and Raquel at home until you are notified of their arraignments.  Failure to do this will result in your immediate arrest and possible incarceration.”

Mr. and Mrs. Lacey stood up and walked briskly around the table to the detective, arguing in vain with him, adamantly continuing to affirm Raquel’s innocence.  Raquel scowled at Darius and snapped, “You’ve ruined my life, you...you scum!  You’ll never be anything but a filthy tramp!”  The boy continued looking downward, silent.  “And you...,” the accused cheerleader snarled, glaring daggers at Pierce, “you’ll never be half the man Steven is!”

The policeman, who had heard the venomous declarations spewing forth from Raquel, leaned over the table a few inches from her face and asserted, “There’s enough evidence to convict your ‘man,’ Mr. Young, of the attempted murder of his wife and Mr. Nevin with that bomb.  Maybe you should have thought twice before getting involved with a criminal, little girl.”

Raquel lunged at him, attempting to scratch his face with her long, sharp fingernails; but the cop pulled back just in time.  She sat back down and cried some real tears, for a change.  Pierce looked upon her with pity.  “I’m sorry, Raquel.”  Everyone was dismissed by Detective Turner.


As Pierce made his way out toward the front, he stopped at Lt. Müller’s office doorway.  She was at her desk.  He knocked lightly on the doorframe.  Looking up, her serious expression changed immediately to a smile.  “Thanks for all your help and everything you’ve done for me,” Pierce expressed.  “I really appreciate it.”

Lt. Müller turned off the tape recorder into which she had been speaking.  “It’s been my pleasure, Mr. Nevin...Pierce.  I’m just sorry you had to endure all of what’s happened to you.”

He approached her desk, transfixed upon her arrestingly perfect green eyes.  A piece of his heart melted.  “You know, I’ve been curious about something.”  He had Lt. Müller’s undivided attention.  “At the beginning...and all along...it seems like you’ve believed that...uhm...I’ve been innocent of every charge.  And, if so...uhm...I was just wondering why.”

Lt. Müller maintained her fixation upon Pierce’s face, running her tongue once across her unblemished lips before speaking.  “Pierce...I’ve seen all kinds come through here, and I’ve developed sort of a ‘sixth sense’—maybe it’s just a heightened intuition—about people.  But, to tell you the truth, if not for one thing, I don’t know if I could have been able to be certain about you, because...well, let’s just say, I’ve questioned some very handsome, even-tempered men like yourself who turned out to be ruthless, hardened con artists and criminals.”

Pierce was flattered, but this beautiful lady still had not answered his question.  “So...what was it about me that convinced you?  I mean...when you first questioned me, I’m sure I acted as nervous as I felt.”

“Well...,” continued the lieutenant, “I suppose you might call it a ‘coincidence.’  When you initially were sitting alone in that room, before I questioned you, I was in the next room—behind the two-way mirror—turning on the tape recorder at the very moment that you said, ‘Was that bullet meant for me?’  Presuming this was an inadvertent exclamation on your part, my initial impression was that you simply had been in the wrong place at the wrong time when Mr. Steen was shot.  After that, I tended to believe you, because your explanations were plausible.  And also, Pierce...I really wanted to believe you.”  Her penetrating gaze showed him that she did.

Pierce was spellbound.  “Well, I must say that, after all that’s happened to me lately, I no longer will discount a ‘coincidence’ as...merely that.”

“I agree.  I believe there’s a specific reason for everything that happens.”  Lt. Müller’s eyes continued to dazzle Pierce.  “Anyway...call me if you have any questions about this case or if I can be of any further assistance.”

“Actually...I was wondering if...uh...if you would mind if...maybe I called you...to invite you to dinner...Vanessa.”  Pierce’s mouth became dry, anticipating her rejection.  It would be a miracle if she....

“I’d like that, Pierce.”  Pierce’s solid legs felt weak, so he braced himself with his hands on the edge of her desk.  Lt. Müller picked up one of her business cards and, before handing it to him, wrote her home phone number on the back of it.  “Call anytime.”  She smiled again.

A little bit more of his heart melted.  He winked.  “You can count on it.”  He faced her as he slowly backed up toward the door, hoping he would not trip over anything—like his own feet.  From outside the doorway, he asked, “Vanessa...do you believe in miracles?”

“Oh, yes, Pierce.  And that reminds me...I think maybe you should go to the hospital as soon as possible....”

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Copyright © 1998– by Ted M. Montgomery.  All rights reserved.