Monday 26 October 2015
‘Are you sure about this, Ronnie?’ Sheriff Rockwell leaned back in his creaky chair, threw his feet up on his desk, and partially obscured his view of Veronica Paulson. At the best of times, he didn’t trust any witness, but in this case, he was adamant about pinning Sally Corwin’s death on her husband Lonnie.
‘Yes, Sheriff Rockwell, I’m positive. Lonnie Corwin was in the diner helping Ralph clean up and then the two of them set about repairing the old cooler room door. It’s been busted for the better part of a month, and I told Ralph if he didn’t get it fixed, I would gladly tell anyone who got food poisoning from anything he cooked that the cooler was broken. Legal stuff seems to be the only thing that’ll set a fire under Ralph. He called Lonnie in to take a look, they did a bit of cleaning up so Lonnie could get in and fix the door. Lonnie was at the diner from about five that night until about nine thirty. Took him that long to undo all of the supposed repairs that Ralph had already done.’
Rockwell let out a groan. His desire to get Lonnie behind bars once and for all was falling apart in front of his eyes.
‘What about Bart Price? Did you see him at all that night?’ Rockwell was going to give his wish one last hopeful push.
‘Last time I saw Bart, he got a sandwich to go, and said he was heading out to Makepeace Road. Didn’t say what for or who he was going to see. But if you want my personal opinion, I think Bart was going out to stir up Lonnie, or do something that would provoke Lonnie into going after him.’
‘Is that so, Ronnie? Well, ain’t it a good thing that you ain’t a police officer, ‘cause we deal in evidence not opinions.’ He gave her a snide smile.
‘Funny you should say that, Jack, because from where I’m sitting, it sure as shit looks like you’re going after any information that might help you turn your opinion about Lonnie, into something that might just pass for solid evidence . . . if nobody bothers to take a decent look at it. And I’ll tell you this for free . . . if you fit Lonnie Corwin up for the murder of his wife, I’ll do everything that I can, I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen, including the newspaper people, that you were out to get Lonnie, and have been so since Lonnie was a kid.’
* * * * *
Old police reports littered Beth’s desk, and her pile of active files had spilled out on to her partner’s obsessively clean and organised workspace.
‘What are you looking for, Corwin?’ Martin cleared a small space on his desk, and deposited two cups of coffee. He clicked his fingers to get Beth’s attention, and then pointed to the cups. ‘They’re from the diner, not the font of poisonous coffee that Rockwell insists is good for our constitution.’
She gratefully accepted the offering of caffeine, and took a break from poring over the files.
‘So come on, Beth, what are you digging around for?’
‘Rockwell’s determined to pin the Paulson murder on Lonnie Corwin, and I think he’s dead wrong . . . no pun intended. I think we should be throwing our net much wider than what Rockwell wants us to.’
‘I agree. I think we’d be foolish to simply focus on Lonnie Corwin. We need to check out what was happening in Veronica’s life, who she was associating with, the works. Everything we’d do for any other murder victim we need to do for Veronica. So, tell me what we’ve got so far.’
She tossed her police notebook to Martin. He hoped it to the marked page and began to read through Beth’s notes.
‘There’s something about all of this that’s bothering me, Marty.’
‘Mmmhumph, and what’s that?’
‘From everything I’ve read in these files, it seems to me that the original Sheriff Rockwell had a serious inclination to blame Lonnie for every crime, big or little, that has occurred around these parts ever since Lonnie was a kid. Now, I haven’t been able to find anything to indicate why he suspected, questioned, or arrested Lonnie, but all of these files mention Lonnie Corwin as being a suspect, brought in for questioning, or being arrested and charged.’
Martin Gates looked up from his partner’s notes. ‘Forget for a moment that Sheriff Rockwell was our boss’s father, and consider him as just another cop, what would that sort of information tell you about the cop we’d be dealing with?’
She hesitated, not wanting to air what she was thinking.
‘Come on, Beth, what does your gut say about that kinda cop?’
‘It tells me I’m dealing with a corrupt cop. Plain and simple.’
Martin grinned. ‘And does it maybe make you think about Rockwell Jr. in a similar manner? Perhaps because he was brought up hearing his father beat up on Lonnie all the time?’
‘I hate to say it, but yeah, I guess it does.’
‘And what are we going to do about that, Detective Corwin?’ He leaned closer but was stifled in his attempt to get closer to Beth by the mountains of files.
‘We’re going to find out who really did kill Veronica Paulson, and why. And if that turns out to be Lonnie Corwin, we’ll arrest him. But if it turns out that someone else is implicated in this crime, we’ll hunt them down until we get a conviction.’
‘Now you’re starting to think like a detective again, Beth. Don’t let your link with Lonnie cloud your vision. Be clear. Be objective. Be the detective that I know you are.’
* * * * *
On a deserted road leading out of town, Bart Price’s Cadillac rolled along slowly towards the derelict barn of an equally derelict farmhouse, and out of sight of the main road. It would be hours, even days before Bart’s body would be discovered, but Jack Rockwell Jr. would ensure that one of his officers happened upon the corpse later that day with an anonymous tip-off call. Lonnie Corwin would spend the rest of his miserable days in prison for a murder he didn’t commit if everything went to plan.
. . . To be continued . . .